Acts of War: Aftershock – Dramatis Personae Part I

Here we are in week twenty-three, and Acts of War: Aftershock is in editing and will soon be heading off to the printer. At this point, beyond a bit of promotion, my work on the book is done. So, like I said last week, these updates will change quite a bit and will essentially be sneak peeks, including excerpts, art, and other goodies. This week, I’m going to kick off a three-part series and talk about the characters in Aftershock, broken down into main POV characters, secondary POV characters, and supporting characters.

So let’s get to it.

Main POV Characters

We’ll kick off this series with the characters through which the story is (mostly) told. These are the heroes and protagonists of Aftershock, and they get the lion’s share of POV time. For those of you familiar with the Iron Kingdoms, these names will be well known to you, for those unfamiliar, well, let me introduce you.

Lord General Coleman Stryker

Stryker is essentially the main character of Aftershock, though he shares the stage a bit more in this book than he did in Flashpoint. The commanding officer of the Storm Division and the highest ranking warcaster in Cygnar, Coleman Stryker embodies the strength and fighting spirit of his nation. At thirty-six years old he is relatively young for such a high-ranking position, but he has been at the forefront of the near ceaseless conflict that has consumed the Iron Kingdoms over the last seven years and has battled Cygnar’s enemies across western Immoren since he began service at eighteen.

Stryker currently leads the invasion force sent to drive Khador from the nation of Llael, and this is familiar ground for the veteran warcaster. He was at the forefront of Cygnar’s efforts to defend its longtime ally when Khador first invaded Llael in 605 AR. Cygnar was eventually forced to abandon Llael to defend their own borders, leaving that kingdom mired in occupation. Stryker understood the need to protect Cygnar first and foremost but saw it as a grave mistake to leave Llael unsupported for so long, a decision which only strengthened Khador. Stryker was himself soon swept up with the grueling Caspia-Sul War against Cygnar’s formidable eastern enemy, The Protectorate of Menoth, a conflict which tested Stryker’s convictions.

Stryker was a trusted advisor and friend to the former king of Cygnar, Leto Raelthorne, having helped this man secure his throne. Fifteen years later, when the king abdicated the throne to his nephew Julius to end a devastating civil war, Stryker found himself an outsider in the new king’s council. Julius sees Stryker as a remnant of his uncle’s rule, a worthy general and weapon in the army’s arsenal but not the king’s champion. Julius put his trust in Asheth Magnus instead, a formerly exiled warcaster who had once supported Leto’s brother, the tyrant Vinter Raelthorne IV, before helping Julius secure his throne. Stryker and Magnus have a long and troubled history and the restoration of a man Stryker still views as a criminal further strains his relationship with the new king.

In battle, Stryker is a fearsomely gifted warcaster and one of Cygnar’s most respected warriors. His soldiers follow him unquestioningly into battle, secure in the knowledge their lord general will be fighting alongside them. With his massive battle blade Quicksilver, he can hew through enemy troops or the armored hulls of warjacks with ease. Stryker commands a host of lightning-based spells and abilities, unique and iconic to the Storm Division he leads. His personal warjack, an aging Ironclad named Ol’ Rowdy, is one of the most formidable warjacks in the Cygnaran Army, and the pair can often be seen leading from the front, bringing destruction to Cygnar’s enemies with blasts of lightning and the shuddering impacts of mechanikal blade and quake hammer.

Major Asheth Magnus

Exiled with King Vinter Raelthorne years ago, Asheth Magnus was one of the most prominent warcasters and battle leaders under Vinter’s despotic rule. He escaped justice during Vinter’s defeat, an event known as the Lion’s Coup, though not without consequences. Prior to that conflict Magnus had taken under his wing a young emerging warcaster named Coleman Stryker, then a member of the Royal Guard. Despite his efforts to guide him, Stryker betrayed Magnus during the Lion’s Coup, joining the cause of the king’s younger brother, Leto. In this fight Stryker severely injured Magnus, crushing his right arm and leg beneath a toppled warjack. At the end of the coup Magnus was offered a pardon but refused, going into exile to lead an armed resistance against Leto, for which he was branded a criminal and traitor.

Meanwhile, Vinter escaped imprisonment and fled into the eastern wastes, promising one day to return. Magnus spent more than a decade plotting against King Leto and working against him whenever possible. Exploiting his military knowledge Magnus became a mercenary warlord. He used his considerable warcaster talents and genius for mechanikal improvisation to muster an army of warjacks and sell-swords, earning coin and gaining allies against Cygnar. His loyalty to Vinter was shaken and then shattered when his former liege returned to the west alongside foreign allies and had the warcaster tortured after Magnus questioned the wisdom of his plans.

The love Magnus once held for Vinter became bitter hatred, ultimately leading to Vinter’s downfall. Magnus had a secret he had concealed: he had found and soon secured Vinter’s bastard son, Julius, and began training the boy to take the throne of Cygnar. When Vinter made his move against Leto, rallying his former supporters, Magnus and Julius led a third army, comprised of the warlord’s mercenaries, which tipped the balance and played a key role in the final battle in this civil war. Fighting alongside Stryker for the first time in many years, Magnus struck the killing blow against Vinter Raelthorne. To avoid further bloodshed, King Leto abdicated the throne and installed his nephew Julius as the new king of Cygnar.

Magnus had no official role in Julius’ court until an heir to the Llaelese throne was found, brought to Cygnar, and betrothed to Julius Raelthorne. Eager to make his mark and seeing a chance to restore Llael and see it eventually joined to Cygnar for his own heirs, the young king order an invasion of Llael to drive out the Khadoran invaders and put his new queen on the throne. He chose Lord General Coleman Stryker to lead this “liberating” army but also brought Asheth Magnus back to the capital and made him a Cygnaran officer once again. Magnus would accompany Stryker into Llael and serve as the king’s eyes and ears.

Magnus is coldly pragmatic warrior, and was infamous for sacrificing troops in battle if he saw a tactical advantage in doing so, and also being utterly ruthless to his enemies. He is cunning, ferocious, and gifted with a military mind second to none. His relationship with Stryker is complicated. While the lord general has nothing but disdain for a man he considers a traitor and worse, Magnus still holds some hope his former pupil might realize the hard truths Magnus tried to teach him when he first recognized Stryker’s gift decades ago.

Marshal Ashlynn d’Elyse

The only daughter of Llaelese noble and renowned master duelist Benoir d’Elyse, Ashlynn d’Elyse was destined to be a great warrior and swordsman like her father. When her arcane abilities manifested, she earned a place at the Royal Arcane Academy, and became one of Llael’s few warcasters.

Her full potential as a warcaster was realized on the front lines when Khador invaded Llael, and she quickly became known among her enemies and allies as a fearsome warrior and battle leader. The execution of her father and many other nobles after the fall of the capitol city of Merywyn only made her more determined and ruthless.

When Cygnar withdrew its aid and Llael fell, Ashlynn fought on, offering her services as a mercenary to fund a growing rebellion. The Resistance has long been a thorn in the side of the Khadoran occupiers, and Ashlynn d’Elyse and her warcaster abilities are behind much of the damage caused by the Llaelese freedom fighters.

When Cygnar invaded Llael to drive out Khador under their new king Julius Raelthorne, the Resistance was not a large part of their plans. Much of this was because of the Resistance’s relationship with the Protectorate of Menoth, a nation of zealots whose interests often put them at odds with Cygnar. Ashlynn resents Cygnar’s invasion of her lands and sees them as little better than the Khadoran occupiers they are attempting to remove, and she largely rejects Lord General Stryker’s aim to be a liberator rather than the leader of an invasion force. She has been here before and has seen the Cygnaran Army abandon her nation to defend its own interests when Khador first invaded Llael in 605 AR. She believes Llael cannot rely on Cygnar if they are to cast off the yoke of Khadoran oppression, so she and the Resistance fight on, against Khador and any who would stand in the way of a free Llael.

Ashlynn is one of the most feared swordsmen in western Immoren, a skill further enhanced by her warcaster abilities and her deadly mechanikal blade Nemesis. She has mastered traditional Llaelese dueling styles and there are few other warcasters who could hope to defeat her in a one-on-one confrontation. Ashlynn is also a gifted military leader with vast knowledge of tactics and stratagems that has allowed her to defeat larger and better-equipped enemies time and again. Ashlynn’s skill, bravery, and devotion to her nation have endeared her to the Llaelese people and especially the desperate freedom fighters of the Llaelese Resistance.


If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:

Week 1 Update Week 12 Update
Week 2 Update Week 13 Update
Week 3 Update Week 14 Update
Week 4 Update Week 15 Update
Week 5 Update Week 16 Update
Week 6 Update Week 17 Update
Week 7 Update Week 18 Update
Week 8 Update Week 19 Update
Week 9 Update Week 20 Update
Week 10 Update Week 21 Update
Week 11 Update Week 22 Update

Acts of War: Aftershock is available for preorder in print and digital from Amazon, and you can buy and read the first book in the series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, right now.

          

 Buy Print – $14.99                                Preorder Print – $15.99

 Buy eBook – $7.99                               Preorder eBook – $7.99

“On a Black Tide” Excerpt & Free eBook!

A few years ago, I wrote a novelette called “On a Black Tide” for Privateer Press, which was included in an anthology of novelettes called Rites of Passage. Privateer Press has given me permission to post an excerpt from “On a Black Tide” and to tell you that you can download the entire novelette from Amazon for free for the next five days. In addition, Rites of Passage is now available from Amazon in print. The anthology is a fantastic introduction to the steam-powered fantasy world of the Iron Kingdoms and features stories by some great authors, including Douglas Seacat, Darla Kennerud, Matthew D. Wilson, Oren Ashkenazi, William Shick, and some dude who runs a blog about rejection. 🙂

Here’s the cover and back cover text for “On a Black Tide.”

 

They say the waters of Cryx run black with ancient evil . . .

In the port city of Blackwater, deep in the heart of the Nightmare Empire, life is short and brutal. Murderous gangs rule the streets and surviving to adulthood means being more vicious and uncompromising than those around you. The only hope of escaping the gang-infested streets is to join one of the many pirate vessels that launch raids from Cryx against the mainland.

For Aiakos, a strong yet undisciplined street thug, the opportunity to join the pirate ship Scythe in a trial by combat is the chance of a lifetime. But as he soon discovers, fighting his way onto a Cryxian pirate vessel is only the beginning of the bloodshed.

When the Scythe is drawn into the schemes of the powerful Satyxis Admiral Axiara Wraithbane, Aiakos once again has a chance to improve his station . . . or die trying.

The novelette “On a Black Tide” is a preview of Rites of Passage, a novel-length collection featuring five additional tales about the grueling trials of novice warcasters in the Iron Kingdoms.


Blackwater, Late Summer, 605 AR

Aiakos watched the Scythe limp into port like a great, wounded beast. The thick ironwood planks of its hull were shot through in many places, and the ship sat low—too low—in the water. Its main mast was gone; only a cracked six-foot stub remained where the massive beam had once stood proud and straight. Rigging and torn sails lay in a tangled snarl on the decks. The ropes had soaked up blood leaking from dozens of broken bodies, turning them pink so they looked like great heaps of intestines. The paddle wheel and the steam engines that powered it were intact; otherwise, Aiakos surmised, the Scythe would be at the bottom of the Meredius.

“That’s Bloodbrine’s ship,” Dasko said, pointing his dirk at the lumbering pirate galleon. “Shot to hell and gone, looks like.”

Aiakos nodded. “Just like Baros said. He’s headed for our pier.” He took a few steps down the pier as the Scythe came to a stop and the few men on her deck cast hawsers to waiting sailors on the pier. Once the ship was moored, its surviving crew shuffked down the gangplank. Every one of them bore some injury, mostly deep cuts and bullet wounds, the mark of pistol and cutlass.

“That he is,” Dasko said. “Baros had good information. That’ll earn him a few more coins.”

Aiakos glanced back at the gang leader, who was now worrying a bit of meat from his teeth with the point of his knife. Behind Dasko twenty of their best lads waited, clubs and knives in hand. He and Dasko had run the Quay Slayers for the last five years. They’d both joined the gang as a means of survival. Aiakos had been forced onto the brutal streets of Blackwater at eleven, Dasko at twelve. This was the way of things in Cryx. Once a child was deemed old enough, he was forced to fend for himself. The only real way to avoid death was to join one of the countless street gangs and learn to be as vicious and cruel as everything else in Blackwater.

What remained of the Scythe’s crew had now disembarked, and the captain himself, Grivus Bloodbrine, was making his way down the gangplank. Captain Bloodbrine was tall, gaunt, and hollow-cheeked. His clothes, although of fine make, were spattered with blood and scorched, and he cradled one arm against his chest, bloody bandages shrouding the limb completely.

Aiakos made his way down the pier, pushing through the line of injured sailors leaving the Scythe. Bloodbrine saw him coming and put his good hand on the heavy pistol shoved into his belt. This was how most people greeted Aiakos—with suspicion and an expectation of violence. Aiakos was large and strong, and he’d earned a reputation as a formidable fighter: relentless, uncompromising, and brutally skilled. He approached the captain slowly, his own weapons—a whaler’s harpoon balanced over one shoulder and a long flensing knife at his hip—at the ready but not overtly so.

“And who might you be?” Captain Bloodbrine called out.

“I am Aiakos, second in the Quay Slayers. You’re moored on our pier, Captain.”

Bloodbrine smiled. “Is that so?”

“It is,” Aiakos said. “But your ship is in bad shape, so we’re willing to let you remain here and offer our protection.”

“What would I need protecting from?” Bloodbrine asked, tapping the butt of his pistol with one finger. Behind the captain another member of his crew had come down the gangplank. She wore closefitting leathers and carried a brace of pistols across her chest. She held a gaff pole in both hands, its blade hooked and gleaming. Unlike the other members of the Scythe’s crew, this woman bore only superficial signs of combat—torn clothing and a few scrapes. The fact that she was uninjured meant either she’d avoided the fighting or she was very good at it. By the way she carried herself, Aiakos assumed the latter.

“Aiakos here says we’re on his pier, Nyra,” Bloodbrine said as the woman came up beside him. “What do you think of that?”

Nyra stared at Aiakos with cold, appraising eyes, her face unreadable. “Pay him what he wants. Someone has to watch the ship while repairs are made,” she said, then pushed past Aiakos.

“My first mate says pay you,” Bloodbrine said. His smile soured. “But what if I’ve got twenty fighters waiting in the hold to protect what’s mine?”

Aiakos glanced up at the decks of the Scythe and quickly counted thirty bodies; there were likely more in the hold. Bloodbrine was in a bad position and vulnerable. The pirate captains were certainly a notch up on the food chain over the street gangs, but any wounded beast was likely to attract scavengers. Aiakos took the risk, weighing his words carefully to imply the threat. “You don’t, or some of them would be with you now. We’ll make sure the shipwrights do their work without interruption while you fill out your crew.”

Bloodbrine grimaced and then spat. He knew his vulnerability was obvious, and in Blackwater that meant he was prey. “How much?”

“Twenty gold crowns a day,” Aiakos replied. “I’ll take today’s payment now.” He held out his hand.

Bloodbrine shook his head and dug into one of the pouches hanging from his belt. He pulled out a handful of gold coins and shoved them at Aiakos, who dropped them into his own pouch.

“Good,” Aiakos said. “Have someone here with the next payment tomorrow at the same time.”

“Do you think you could keep them off the ship?” Bloodbrine nodded at something over Aiakos’ right shoulder. He turned and saw a trio of awful figures moving down the pier. The necrotechs were bulbous, fleshy things upon a tangle of metal spider-like legs. They moved toward the Scythe, a small mob of shambling thralls in their wake. The undead masters of necromechanika were always on the lookout for fresh supplies. Word had obviously reached them that the Scythe was, for the moment, a floating abattoir.

Aiakos suppressed a shudder as the necrotechs approached. The undead were part of everyday life in Blackwater, but most of the living stayed out of their way lest they, too, be considered raw materials for the flesh foundries. Some in Blackwater saw undeath as a way to accumulate power and rise in station; certainly the armies and navies of Cryx contained powerful undead, not to mention the almost god-like power of the lich lords who controlled everything. To Aiakos, though, the thought of surrendering breath and blood for the cold eternity of undeath was abhorrent. Worse yet was that many were thrust upon that path unwillingly, robbed of their free will to serve as mindless and disposable cannon fodder.

“No,” Aiakos said and stepped out the way of the necrotechs and their thrall servitors. The rotten stink of their passing made his eyes water and his gorge rise. “They always take what they want.”

Bloodbrine watched the necrotechs clamber aboard his ship, their spidery legs making a dull metallic clacking noise as they scuttled across the main deck. “The shipwrights will be here tomorrow, after they’ve”—he jerked his head toward his ship—“taken what they want.”

Thralls had already begun to drag the dead from the Scythe, leaving bloody smears across the pier. Many of the corpses were in various states of dismemberment, as the necrotechs cut away the burnt and mangled pieces, leaving the choicest bits intact.

Aiakos nodded, then turned and walked back to Dasko. Bloodbrine remained, watching the necrotechs with a scowl. Aiakos felt a twinge of sympathy for the captain, a well-known and powerful pirate now forced to stand by and watch the real power in Blackwater take what it wanted from him.

“What did he say?” Dasko said as Aiakos approached.

“He agreed. Twenty per day,” Aiakos replied.

Dasko smiled and rubbed his hands together. “The lads were hoping for a bit of sport, but I’d just as soon have the money without a fuss. Hand it over.”

Aiakos dug the coins from his pouch, counted out his cut, and passed the rest to Dasko without a word.

“We talked to a few of Bloodbrine’s men as they passed,” Dasko said. “He’ll be looking for replacements. They’re gathering at the Black Hold. Should be quite a spectacle.”

Pirate captains looking to replace men lost in battle often announced their intentions and gathered potential recruits into one of the many fighting pits around Blackwater. There, the poor and desperate would fight one another, sometimes to the death, for a chance at a life at sea. Crewing a pirate vessel was not exactly easy work, but the chance to get off Blackwater and at least have the opportunity to amass wealth and prestige was often considered enough to die for.

Aiakos was no stranger to the fighting pits. He fought regularly, both to earn extra coin and to keep his battle skills honed. His many victories only enhanced his reputation among the Quay Slayers and the rival gangs they often battled. “I’ll meet you there,” Aiakos said and walked past Dasko. He turned and looked at the Scythe. The ship was swarming with activity as more thralls arrived to cart away the dead. Beyond the ship was the Meredius, its waters stretching to the horizon in a flat, grey expanse. To Aiakos the sea looked like a blank slate, pure and filled with untold possibilities. He turned back to Blackwater, grimaced, and pressed on.


If you’d like to read the rest of the story, you can download “On a Black Tide” from Amazon absolutely free for the next five days. And if you dig my little tale of piracy, undead, and general mayhem, you should absolutely check out the other five stories in Rites of Passage, also available in eBook and print formats from Amazon.

      

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 18 Update

Here we are at week eighteen into the production of Acts of War: Aftershock. These updates are going to change a bit as I start working on revisions. More on that below.

Progress: I’m starting revisions on the novel this week–today, actually—so my progress reports will reflect where I’m at with rewrites, scene additions, scene subtractions, and all the myriad little tweaks and adjustments that will turn the book into the final product you’ll be reading on July 12th.

Revision Roundup: The editors at Privateer Press have given me extensive notes on what they’d like to see changed or adjusted in the next draft. I’ve worked with all of these folks many times on long and short fiction, and the level of notes and requested changes are what I expected. There’s work to do, but it’s not overwhelming, and much of it entails adding material, which, in my opinion, is the easiest type of revising.

There are three primary, broad-strokes areas I’ll be working on in this round of revisions: story, character, and setting continuity. All three involve changes big and small, and I’ll detail some of those changes in the coming weeks as I work through them, but here’s a little taste. After reading through the draft, the editors at Privateer Press all came to the same conclusion: more Ashlynn d’Elyse. That suits me just fine. She’s a great character, and I’ll be adding a scene or two with the Llaese Resistance leader in this next draft. In fact, that’s gonna be the very first thing I do!

Mini Excerpt: Since the editors want more Ashlynn in the next draft, here’s more Ashlynn in this week’s mini-excerpt AND on the awesome cover of Aftershock (courtesy of the extremely talented Néstor Ossandón).

 



Another volley from the two Destroyers came shrieking down from the wall. The shells detonated in front of Ashlynn, pelting her power field with debris. Her Vanguards absorbed most of the blast, though one of them suffered for it. Damage reports flowed back through her connection with the warjack; its right leg had been severely damaged. She ordered it to fall back and protect the troops behind her.

She was close enough now that Crash and Soldier could reach the top of the wall with their steam cannons. She urged them to fire, and the explosive shells arced high and exploded against the hull of one of the Destroyers. Khadoran warjack armor was thick, but the twin blasts sent the great red machine stumbling backward, and then it disappeared. Ashlynn smiled at the thought of the ten-ton warjack plummeting forty feet to the ground below. Hopefully, there would be Assault Kommandos to soften its landing.



I like to think some proud son of the Motherland, a kovnik maybe, had a bunch of Winter Guard at the bottom of that wall waiting to soften the fall of such valuable equipment. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:


This week marks a special occasion. Acts of War: Aftershock is available for preorder in print and digital from Amazon! Choose your preferred format and click the link below.

Preorder Print – $15.99

Preorder eBook – $7.99

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 17 Update

Seventeen weeks into the production of Acts of War: Aftershock, and the revision process is about to kick into high gear.

Progress: Tomorrow, I’m heading into the Privateer Press offices to discuss revision notes on Aftershock with publications director Mike Ryan and the continuity team, which includes Doug Seacat and Matt Goetz. One of the handy things about living in the same city as your publisher is you can have a face-to-face meetings to make sure we’re all on the same page with any big changes. After the meeting, I’ll start revisions in earnest with a goal of completing them by the end of the month.

The Best Part: Help is on the way. One of the great things about writing for Privateer Press is that I have access to a fantastic team of editors and continuity editors. I can get questions answered on just about anything Iron Kingdoms-related from arguably the best source on the planet: Doug Seacat, the sage of the IK himself. The man is a literal encyclopedia of Iron Kingdoms lore. Mike Ryan and Matt Goetz also help out with continuity, and, even better, all three of them are accomplished writers with a great sense of story and characterization. So, in other words, I’m in good hands, and the changes I’ll be making will only improve the final product.

The Hard Part: No, mine! With revisions on a novel this size, you’re going to have minor disagreements from time to time. I’m not talking about the cut-and-dry continuity stuff that’s either right or it isn’t; I’m talking about more nuanced things like characterization and narrative pace and structure. Occasionally, they’ll want me to change something I’d like to keep. It could be a small detail, like the description of character, to something a bit bigger, like that character’s motivation. Invariably, the editors are open to discussion, and if I can make a good case for leaving things the way I had them, they’ll remain unchanged. On the other hand, the editors often make such a compelling argument, even on a point I’m fairly passionate about, that I’ll come around to their line of thinking or at least find a workable compromise.

Mini Excerpt: As many of you know, Asheth Magnus, one of the heroes (?) of Acts of War: Aftershock, is not a “whole” man. His right arm has been replaced with a mechanikal prosthetic, which, as we see in the excerpt below, he has been known to use creatively.



“I know who you are,” Kovnik Narova broke in. “A murderer, a traitor, and a liar.”

Magnus chuckled. “Well, I can’t deny all of that,” he said. “But I’m glad we’re well acquainted.”

He squatted down in front of the Khadoran, ignoring the pain it wrung from his braced leg. He reached out with his right hand, a mechanikal prosthetic, bulky and crude but effective, and laid it on the kovnik’s shoulder. The man did not flinch or pull away, but he would feel the weight and strength of that hand. “I have some questions for you,” he said and squeezed, not enough to hurt yet. He could feel Dane’s eyes on his back, watching, evaluating.

“I will tell you nothing,” Kovnik Narova said.

“I understand,” Magnus said with a sympathetic nod. “You are a good soldier, and you must say that.” He tightened his grip, and the Kovnik winced. Bruising pressure now. “Here is the first question.”



I recently broke my collarbone, a painful experience, and one that I drew upon quite a bit in this excerpt . . . and what comes after. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 16 Update

Sixteen weeks into the production of Acts of War: Aftershock, and here’s the lay of the land.

Progress: The first draft is still under review with the editors at Privateer Press, but as I hinted at last week, I have not be sitting here twiddling my thumbs. This week I put the final revisions on a prequel story called “Confirmed Kill” about the trollkin sniper Corporal Horgrum and his human spotter and CO Sergeant Sharp. Both appeared in Acts of War: Flashpoint and return in Acts of War: Aftershock in a larger role. The story will appear in the next issue of No Quarter magazine (#72) along with some other goodies you won’t want to miss.

The Best Part: Don’t forget the little guys. When you’re writing an epic war novel like Aftershock, your action focuses on the main characters, the heroes and villains of the story, but they’re commanding entire armies of soldiers, often faceless combatants that are doing the bulk of the fighting. Now, the Iron Kingdoms makes filling out the ranks a lot more interesting because there are so many interesting and flavorful choices. I mean, I’ve got gun mages (both Cygnaran and Llaelese), Trenchers of every flavor, Storm Lances, Storm Knights, Iron Fang Pikemen and Uhlans, Winter Guard, Assault Kommandos, Man-O-War Shocktroopers and Demolition Corps, and the list goes on and on. The names of those troop types alone conjure all kinds of images, so it just makes a writer’s job that much easier having all that cool on tap.

The Hard Part: The little guys have to count, you know, a little. When your action is focused on the near god-like power of warcasters, it can be tough to present a credible threat without the use of other heavy hitters. Stryker and Magnus can mow down large groups of common soldiers, but it’s important to point out that with enough numbers or with the right support, those common soldiers can really ruin a warcaster’s day. It’s nice to have Khador as my primary antagonist in these novels, because the Reds don’t do anything small-scale. They field troops that can be a serious thorn in a warcaster’s side without having to throw an entire regiment at him. This week’s mini-excerpt and art features just one of these elite Khadoran killers.

Mini Excerpt: The Man-O-War, brave Khadoran soldiers encased in massive suits of steam-powered armor, have been my go-to in a number of scenes where I need to present a credible threat to warcasters without resorting to, uh, other warcasters. These guys and gals are kind of Khador’s answer to light warjacks, and their armor, plus the truly fearsome weapons they wield, make them a match for just about anything on the battlefield, especially when you get a whole bunch of them together.

 



Stryker batted an Annihilator Axe away with Quicksilver, then slipped back to let two more narrowly miss. He had a momentary opening and made a lunging overhand cut at the Man-O-War directly in front of him. The strike lacked the power to penetrate the man’s armor, but it sent him stumbling back a step, disrupting the shield wall, and allowing Stryker to make a more powerful attack at the next Khadoran in the line. He delivered this blow with enough force to split armor and flesh, and one Man-O-War was down.

He leapt back to keep the enemy from surrounding him, but a single Man-O-War broke formation and charged, whipping his Annihilator Axe up to deliver a mammoth strike. The enemy’s weapon was longer than Quicksilver, and Stryker could do little but throw up a desperate parry to ward off the Khadoran attack. The Man-O-War smashed his blade aside, and the axe struck him between gorget and pauldron. He grimaced as the plate steel buckled but held. Harcourt’s spell saved him. Without it, the blow would have broken his collarbone at a minimum or just split him open from neck to sternum.



Always keep those journeyman warcasters handy, right, folks? Never know when you might really need an Arcane Shield spell. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 15 Update

Week fifteen! Here’s the update on Acts of War: Aftershock.

Progress: I haven’t been idle while waiting for Privateer Press to review the first draft of Acts of War: Aftershock. In fact, I managed to write another 3,000 words in the form of a short story, a prequel of sorts, focusing on one of the secondary character in the novel. More on that soon.

The Best Part: Looking ahead. As I read through the Aftershock manuscript again, I’m getting ideas for the third book in the trilogy, and I’ve begun to jot them down for the eventual discussion with Privateer Press chief creative officer Matthew D. Wilson, publications director Mike Ryan, and the other folks who make all the Skull Island eXpeditions books happen. The third act is always the BIG one, and even though I won’t start writing book three for many months, I can’t help but get excited about the future of the series.

The Hard Part: Uh, looking ahead. Another two-for this week. As I inch closer to the spectacularly gigantic conclusion to the trilogy, my fragile writer brain reels in horror. I mean, it’s got to be cool, it’s got be epic, and it’s got be, you know, good. That’s a lot of pressure, but like every major writing project, you have to approach it in pieces, one day and one word at a time. Taking it in small bite-sized chunks prevents me from seeing the towering monstrosity of the whole project and allows me to keep my sanity, such as it is. I’ve done that with each novel I’ve written, and I don’t expect book three to be different in that regard.

Mini Excerpt: Today’s excerpt focuses on Asheth Magnus and a confrontation with one of the most feared Khadoran warjacks: the Juggernaut.



Magnus threw himself flat, dragging Legate di Morray down with him. The shell exploded behind them, and intense heat rolled over Magnus’ back. As he scrambled to his feet, he saw why. The Man-O-War shield cannon had blown a hole in the tower, giving him a clear view of the hellscape below. He pulled di Morray up and pressed him flat against the wall with his mechanikal arm. “Are you injured?” he asked. The legate shook his head, but he looked like he might collapse any minute.

The angle of the doorway ahead offered some cover from the enemy, but it obscured their view of what was inside. To make matters worse, smoke poured from the open door and filled the hall with a black haze. Magnus was more than a little concerned about what that meant. “Did you see what’s in the next room?” he shouted to Horgrum.

The trollkin appeared uninjured, and he stood against the wall a few feet ahead of Legate di Morray. “Three Man-O-War and a warjack with an axe made of ice.”

“Juggernaut,” Magnus said. “Fantastic.”



Come on, Magnus. It’s not all bad news, right? Ice axe, sure, but I’m pretty sure Horgrum would have mentioned the paint job if it was Beast 09. 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here:

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Check out the first book in this series, Acts of War: Flashpoint, if you haven’t already. You can still get the e-book at 25% off from the Skull Island eXpeditions website by entering the code ACTSOFWAR1 at checkout.

Acts of War: Aftershock – Week 14 Update

Week fourteen has come and gone, and here’s your weekly update on Acts of War: Aftershock.

Progress: The first draft is still under review with Privateer Press, but this is not unusual for a couple or reasons. First, it’s a big book that a bunch of folks need to read, and that just takes time. Second, its July release date means there are books in the queue coming out well before it, like Orrin Grey’s Godless, which need editorial attention first. Truth be told, I finished the first draft of Aftershock well before the deadline, which is good for me, but it doesn’t necessarily speed up the editorial process. I still have to wait in line. 🙂

The Best Part: Sword nerdery. Writing this kind of fiction gives me plenty of opportunities to indulge my love of historical warfare. One of the things I like most is figuring out how different Iron Kingdoms weapons might be used in combat. Take Stryker’s mechanikal greatsword Quicksilver, for example. It’s meant to be used by a warcaster to crack open warjacks and other heavily armored targets. Though it can be wielded like a sword, to my mind, its use would often resemble certain types of polearms. On the other hand, Ashlynn d’Eleyse’s weapon Nemesis is a completely different story. She’s a renowned swordsman with a sword designed for dueling, and I can turn to various real-world techniques (from longsword to saber) to describe her fighting style.

The Hard Part: A little goes a long way. The last thing I want to do is turn the book into a treatise on sword-fighting. When I write a fight scene, I go back and read it, specifically looking to see if I’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole with my descriptions. I want to keep the action moving, and I don’t want to drop a paragraph of exposition on archaic fighting techniques into my battle. So, I work to show the techniques rather than just tell you about them. (I get to do the telling in a series of No Quarter articles.)

Mini Excerpt: Today’s excerpt focuses on Lord General Coleman Stryker, who has gotten himself in a bit of a pickle. He’s found himself without his trusty warcaster armor or Quicksilver and must rely on the skills he learned in the Cygnaran Royal Guard years ago.



It had been many years since Stryker had used a sword like the one he’d taken from the slain gun mage, but the weapon was similar to the straight double-edged blades of the Royal Guard where he’d received his initial martial training.

The principal guards came back to him in a rush.

Prong.

He held the sword high, point toward his enemy, and caught an axe blow on the strong of the blade. The heavier axe slid away from his sword, and with a quick twist of wrist and shoulder he opened the Winter Guard’s skull with a powerful overhand cut.

The next Khadoran came at him with a rifle bayonet, thrusting at his stomach.

Nail.

Stryker turned his sword, point-down, in front of his body and knocked the bayonet away with a sharp parry. He lunged forward, bringing the point of his weapon back up, and used his momentum to ram the blade through the Winter Guard’s throat.



Split a skull, stab a throat—it’s just like riding a bike, eh, Lord General? 🙂

If you have a question or comment about the book or my writing process, ask away in the comments section below. And if you’ve missed the updates for the previous weeks, you can find them right here: