Ruled by Shadows – BOOK TRAILER

It’s been a ‘work in progress’ for a while, but RULED BY SHADOWS is steadily inching closer to publication.

The book is now in the hands of my beta-readers, and I should hear back from them toward the end of August. That’ll give me some time to make the final changes, sort the proofreading, and send out copies to the ARC readers. The novel will be up on pre-order soon, for release mid-September. As soon as it’s up on pre-order, I’ll post a link up on this blog. 🙂

What’s RULED BY SHADOWS about?

Book #1 of the Light and Darkness series, RULED BY SHADOWS is an Epic Fantasy Romance about Lilia, a frightened young woman who is forced to leave her old life behind and embark on an epic adventure. It’s the story of an ordinary girl thrown into an extraordinary situation. It has everything I love about Epic Fantasy in it (epic adventure, dark forces, magic and huge stakes) but it’s also a character driven story about people we feel we could know. The novel is a romance as well, so the love story is central to it.

In a land ruled by shadows, the fate of all lies in the hands of a girl who is afraid of the dark.

To find out more, watch the book trailer for RULED BY SHADOWS below.

The Palâdnith Chronicles is available as a complete series!

Exciting news! The Palâdnith Chronicles: The Complete Series is now available.

If you’re into Epic Fantasy adventure on a grand-scale, this series is for you! The box-set contains all three books in the series (Journey of Shadows, The Citadel of Lies, and The Well of Secrets), plus the prequel novella, Deep-Spire. The e-book edition of the complete series costs USD$4.99 — it’s a great deal since each of the full-length novels retails at US$2.99, so if you buy them in the box-set you’re saving around $4.00!

What’s the series about?

Three brothers. One epic destiny. Get lost in the world of Palâdnith, and embark on an Epic Fantasy adventure.

Thirty years after the mysterious disappearance of their mother, cataclysmic events force Seth, Eni and Val Falkyn to abandon their old lives and identities, and run for their lives. Hunted by assassins, each brother embarks on a journey across a land torn by political turmoil and the threat of war.

Along the way, each man must face his personal demons and fears. Help comes from unlikely sources but, in the end, it is Seth, Eni and Val’s own strength, determination and courage that will decide their fates.

The Palâdnith Chronicles: The Complete Series contains Journey of Shadows (Book One), The Citadel of Lies (Book Two), and The Well of Secrets (Book Three) — as well as Deep-Spire, the prequel novella to the series.

Fans of classic Epic Fantasy Adventure and High Fantasy in the style of J.R.R Tolkien, George R.R Martin and Terry Brooks should enjoy immersing themselves in a unique fantasy world.

Where can I get a copy?

You can buy an e-book edition of the box-set at one of the following online bookstores:

Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk
Smashwords

If you read the series, please do consider leaving an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads — it would mean a lot to me and would ensure others find the book too!

Thanks so much for your support.

Best wishes,

Samantha

How to manage story arc in Epic Fantasy

Just had a revelation about plotting Epic Fantasy novels that I had to share with you!

Writing a fantasy novel is hard work! It took me around 8 months to get the 130,000 words of the first draft of RULED BY SHADOWS written — and after a brutal structural edit I’m now over half-way through the rewrite.

I’ve changed a lot of things during the second draft—but one of the biggest discoveries for me is in how to manage the story arc.

Epic Fantasies are big, complex books. Add some romance to it and you have a lot to balance.

One of the things that has struck me during this rewrite is that Epic Fantasy novels are like matryoshka dolls (those little Russian dolls that nest inside each other) — there are stories within stories. Arcs within arcs.

What do I mean by this?

Think of the classic story arc:

  1. Set up
  2. Crisis
  3. Resolution

This is the traditional three-act structure, which of course most stories will have. The problem for me is that in a long story, these three are too over-arching, too generic.

Here’s an example of the three act structure for Star Wars (from William Coleman, Flickr):

3 act structure

That’s great — and it’s important to be able to break your story up into these three steps — but it doesn’t take into account that each section of your story needs to have it’s own arc and flow.

So, instead of just focusing on these three over-arching plot points, I’ve broken down my novel into sub-sections, and then focused on each section having it’s own arc. This process is massively important to Epic Fantasy, because these stories usually head toward some epic battle, or climatic show-down. It can be tempting to focus too much on the destination and not on the journey. Yet Fantasy is a slow-build, it’s all about world-building, character development, and creating a net of subplots that all come together in the end.

The reader should feel that each section of the novel has a sense of completion.

To do this, I broke my current work-in-progress, RULED BY SHADOWS, into sub-sections. Here they are:

  1. Set up on The Isle of Orin
  2. The First Journey (from Orin to The Royal City of Rithmar)
  3. The House of Light and Darkness
  4. The Second Journey (from the Royal City of Rithmar to the Shadefell Mountains)
  5. The Epic battle at the Shadefells and the grande finale

Not all of these sections will be the same size. Some will be six chapters, long, some nine, other’s twelve.

Once you’ve split your story up into sub-sections, decide on how long each one is going to be. This is an important step — it’s easy to let sections drag on too long, or rush them. To avoid this, figure out how many chapters you’re going to need for each stage: SET UP, CRISIS and RESOLUTION.

Let’s take section 2 of RULED BY SHADOWS as an example: The First Journey

I decided that since this journey takes place in the first third of the novel, it shouldn’t drag on too long. Not only that, but it has to move the story forward as well, not just be an entertaining diversion with my main characters travelling and encountering danger along the way.

The First Journey: 9 chapters

  1. SET UP: goal is to show that something is wrong with the world while allowing the readers to get to know the main characters.
    Ch 1: characters leave the port city of Idriss, encounter a shadow creature on the way out of town and barely escape with their lives. Very strange event as these creatures don’t usually go anywhere near towns. Not only that but the weather has gone gloomy and cold — even though its the middle of summer
    Ch 2: characters reach first town and discover that there shadow creatures have been attacking settlements after dark. There’s unrest and fear. Weather is still grey — they haven’t seen the sun in days.
    Ch 3: characters reach a village on the edge of the highlands, half-way through their journey, and discover the locals have gone rogue with fear. Our heroine saves a mother and son who are about to be sacrificed to the shadows.
  2. CRISIS: goal is to show the background menace on the journey exploding into real danger — our four companions must depend on each other for survival
    Ch 4: Rough night in the village in which shadow creatures attack and cause a lot of damage — our heroes wisely stay indoors although they see the devastation the following morning
    Ch 5: They make camp on the road and are attacked by shadow creatures during the night. Barely escape with their lives and manage to hide under a boulder until dawn. The days are still dark—no sign of the sun.
    Ch 6: They hide-out in a cave the following night but witness a bloody attack on The Brotherhood (the group of assassins who’ve been tracking them since Orin), in which all of their pursuers are butchered.
  3. RESOLUTION: goal is to bring our characters closer together as it becomes a fight for survival. Will they actually reach the capital?
    Ch 7: The companions stop for a much needed rest and our hero and heroine share a first kiss  (it’s also a romance, after all!). A much needed drawing of breath after three action-packed chapters
    Ch 8: Problems start again at dusk when they can’t find anywhere safe to hide out for the night. They’re still three days from their destination and will never make it in time. Shadow creatures close in and it seems they’ve finally been caught.
    Ch 9: A patrol of enchanters — the very people they are travelling to see at the capital — come across them, just before the shadow creatures do, and protect them just in time. The next day they safely escort them the rest of the way to their destination.

The notes above are very sketchy, and I deliberately kept them so. I like to have a bit of mystery when I write. If I plan everything out in minute detail I lose interest — there’s nothing left to discover! However, this type of planning really helps me create a strong skeleton to hang my story on.

I’ve actually just rewritten this section — here are my chapter titles:

Chapter Seventeen: The Encounter
Chapter Eighteen: By the Fireside
Chapter Nineteen: Sacrifice to the Shadows

Chapter Twenty: A Sleepless Night in Hillbrook
Chapter Twenty-one: Flight in the Dark
Chapter Twenty-two: The Valley

Chapter Twenty-three: Collecting Firewood
Chapter Twenty-four: The Net Tightens
Chapter Twenty-five: The Enchanters of the Light

My original journey was long-winded and a huge digression from the main storyline. This one develops the characters and adds to the central conflict. The journey makes the stakes higher. Not only are our characters are on the run pursued by assassins, and taking a precious talisman to safety, but even though it’s mid-summer, the days have grown dark and cold, and shadow creatures — servants of a past dictator — are now attacking towns with increasing viciousness. Everything seems to be going wrong.

When should you plan out these story arcs?

First draft would be ideal! However, second drafts are also are good place to start. By this stage you have a strong idea of your world and characters and have a greater sense of what you want to achieve.

Hopefully, you find my advice on creating multiple story arcs within your novel useful—this discovery was definitely a ‘lightbulb moment’ for me. 🙂

Brandon Sanderson video series

Highly recommend a video series on YouTube, where fantasy author Brandon Sanderson delivers lectures about how to write Epic Fantasy.

I’m in the midst of the second draft of my Epic Fantasy Romance, RULED BY SHADOWS (around a third of the way through the rewrite) and have found his advice worth it’s weight in gold.

He had a ton of amazing tips but two that really resonated with me were:

  1. Use your Prologue and/or first chapter to create a PROMISE to your reader. Give them all the elements they will encounter later in the story, don’t hold back. Set up a promise, and then deliver on it!
  2. Epic Fantasy readers love the tropes, they just don’t want cliches. To give them what they want, create characters based on a trope (say, the wise mentor) but then subvert it by adding a dark secret and something unexpected to this character. E.g. the wise mentor who likes to knife-fight in his spare time, who is actually the bastard son of the arch-villain – a secret he’s hidden his whole life. That was just off the top of my head, but you get the idea!

Here’s the link to the first of the video series – enjoy!

Ruled by Shadows – MAPS

Every Epic Fantasy story has to have a good map or two!

I like drawing and try to create all the maps for my books. Here the two I’ve created for RULED BY SHADOWS. The first is a map of the entire continent of Serran (with its four kingdoms) and the second is a detail of the Isle of Orin, where the first third of the novel takes place.

Enjoy!

the-four-kingdoms-of-serran

the-isle-of-orin2

 

RULED BY SHADOWS update!

ruled-by-shadows_coverWell, the first draft has been written. Around 130,000 words – so it’s a door-stopper as predicted!

I started writing the first draft around eight months ago (and published two novels in the meantime) so I’m pleased to finally have this manuscript done.

As I’ve mentioned before, this project is one very close to my heart. It’s a story I’ve wanted to write for a while. It’s a combination of an epic fantasy adventure and an epic love story, combining the elements I love best about the genres of fantasy and romance.

Am I happy with the story?

I’m currently reading through the manuscript before it heads off for a structural edit. The first ‘read-through’ as I call it is always a nerve-wracking moment. When I write a mansucript, I don’t tend to look back much until I’ve actually finished the story. I find it tends to kill my enthusiasm if I go back and try to edit chapters as I go. It kind of dilutes the magic. As I do quite a bit of planning around story arc and characters before I start writing, I have a strong idea of where I’m going. The advice ‘don’t look back until it’s done’ is good if you’re writing a big book. You’ll never get it finished otherwise!

So, I’m three-quarters of the way through the first read-through and I’m really delighted with the book!

Big sigh of relief.

There’s always that fear you’ve written 130,000 words of rubbish – although my structural editor will have the final word on that…

Why I think it works

There are a few things I think I’ve got right with this one. My previous epic fantasy novels were grand in scope and character-driven but I think they lacked depth and intimacy compared to this one. The two main characters, Lilia and Perrin, are the sort of people you feel you could know. They really bring the story to life, and I think the two secondary ones, Robana and Saul, are some of the best supporting characters I’ve ever created.

The story is a classic epic fantasy tale of a magic talisman, an epic quest and a dark lord – but my telling of it veers away from tradition. The story is told through the eyes of Lilia and Perrin as they embark not only on an adventure but on a journey of self-discovery and love.

There’s also a strong over-arching theme in the novel that has nothing to do with fantasy tropes. I explore fear and different people’s reaction to it. Does it limit our world or do we use it to grow and change? It’s a theme most of us can relate to and I really enjoyed exploring it. I also think it has added real depth to the story.

The world I’ve created – The Four Kingdoms of Serran – has come together really well. I know the Isle of Orin (where the first third of the novel takes place) so well I can close my eyes and imagine I’m there. I modelled the city of Idriss off Naples in Italy – a city that I love – and The Royal City of Rithmar on a much larger version of an Umbrian hill town. Yes, there’s a bit of Italian influence there (as I lived there for years), but the culture of this world is modelled on Dark Ages and early Medieval Ireland and Britain.

Enough about that – when’s it going to be released?

I don’t have a publication date yet but as soon it gets back from the editor and I know how much work it needs, I’ll be able to put one up on this blog. Watch this space. 🙂

Would you like a chance to read RULED BY SHADOWS before anyone else?

I’m currently getting together a REVIEW CREW for the novel. You get a free e-copy of the novel pre-publication, and in return all I ask is that you write an honest review and post it on Amazon and/or Goodreads.

If you’d like receive an advance review copy (Kindle, EPub or PDF versions), then please email me at samanthajcharlton@gmail.com with REVIEW CREW: FANTASY in the subject line and I’ll add you to the list.

JOURNEY OF SHADOWS is a finalist!

joscoversizeokJust received word that JOURNEY OF SHADOWS is a finalist in the OZMA Awards for Fantasy, Magic, Steampunk, Fairytale, Sword and Sorcery fiction!

I published JOURNEY OF SHADOWS (Book #1: The Paladnith Chronicles) in 2014. Since then, I’ve completed the trilogy.

The Paladnith Chronicles is the epic tale of three brothers and a legacy bestowed to them by their mother—who disappeared when they were very young. JOURNEY OF SHADOWS is a classic epic fantasy adventure, following each of the three brothers on their different paths as they face danger, and their own personal demons.

ozma-awards

Get a FREE Kindle copy of JOURNEY OF SHADOWS!

Ruled by Shadows – progress update

ruled-by-shadows_coverI’ve now reached 77,000 words on RULED BY SHADOWS. The novel is steaming ahead, and I’m excited how it’s developing.

Epic fantasy is complex, so I’m glad I took the time to plan out the plot. That said though, I’ve left enough room for the characters and story to develop naturally. That’s where the storytelling magic happens.

I’m aiming for a final word count of between 110,000-120,000, so I’ve now embarking on the final third of the book.

It’s part of series!

RULED BY SHADOWS will be Book #1 of the LIGHT AND DARKNESS trilogy.

As it’s romance, the love story in this novel will stand alone – however, there will be a continuing story (with two more love stories) that will continue over a three-book arc. This had meant a lot more planning on my part, and a few changes to the plot of this book, but I think the finished result will be infinitely worth it! It will allow me to truly develop this world and expand the characters, layer conflict.

Plus, readers love a good series to get their teeth into!

I’m aiming to get the first draft of RULED BY SHADOWS complete in the next four weeks. That means I’m going to have to knuckle-down.

Read RULED OF SHADOWS before anyone else

Join up to my mailing list (on my Jayne Castel website) and I’ll put you on my ARC list. You will receive a free e-book in advance of the official release date.

 

 

Book review: The Undying King by Grace Draven

30753120I adore Grace Draven. Her beautiful writing style and powerful stories easily make her one of my favourite authors.

I loved this story too – and would have given it five stars if it hadn’t felt a little rushed toward the end.

The story is of Imogen, a young woman who has been cursed from birth, and Cededa, a cruel king who has been cursed with eternal life. After her stepmother dies, Imogen travels to Cededa’s dead city in an attempt to lift the curse which makes a normal life impossible. Her touch is death but not to Cededa, the Undying King. Draven writes great anti-heroes. Cededa is a monster but an eternity alone to contemplate his actions has taught him many harsh lessons. Imogen is his only chance at redemption.

There was so much potential here for a full-length novel, so much depth that went unexploited. The first half was definitely my favourite, but at the three-quarter mark the action sped up and the novella finished abruptly. I would still recommend the story, as it has all the elements that make Grace Draven’s works so memorable: vividly drawn and realistic characters, a credible and interesting fantasy world and an exciting plot. It just needed to be longer!

Find out more about the novella – or get yourself a copy here.

 

Throne of Glass series – epic fantasy romance not to miss!

I’m a big fan of Sarah J. Maas’s THRONE OF GLASS series. I’ve read all the books so far and am hanging out for the sixth book in the series!

throne-of-glass-series

Now… I’m not a big fan of the covers. In fact – the covers almost put me off reading the series. They’re too ‘young adult’ and comic book for my liking. The series gets very dark, has some steamy sex, is pretty violent and tackles some heavy issues. The covers don’t give you any of that – they are all wrong. That said, don’t let the covers put you off. This is a hugely epic, emotionally powerful series that gets better and better with each book.

I actually wrote reviews for each book as I read it, and thought I would share them here. I’ve also inserted in links to Amazon for each book, just in case my reviews inspire you to read the books!

51egs3mf22l-_sx166_sy265_Throne of Glass (Book #1)

An exciting start to a well-written series (I’m now into the third book and loving it). Maas creates a believable fantasy world and the main character – Celaena – is fantastic. I’m always a bit cautious when reading novels where the heroine appears to have superhuman abilities but Celaena is completely believable as the tough-as-nails teenage assassin. I highly recommend this character-driven fantasy series.

Crown of Midnight (Book #2)51nyjnp7ktl-_sx166_sy265_

The second installment to the Throne of Glass series was even better than the first. The character development was more exciting, the themes darker. There’s more at stake – and the twist half-way through was fantastic. I love it when an author surprises me with a twist I never saw coming!

Celaena really develops in this novel. She matures and we start to discover more about her heritage, which sheds light on parts of her character. I also enjoyed Chaol and Dorian’s character development as they embark on subplots of their own. This novel really is a roller-coaster, Maas packs in a lot into it but everything works. A fantastic series!

Heir of Fire (Book #3)519kgyzi9rl-_sx166_sy265_

The best of the series so far!

Each novel is getting darker and more complex, which I love. I also enjoyed the various subplots – especially the one about the witches. The Yellowlegs, Bluebloods and Blackbeaks all vie for dominance as they strike a bargain with a human king and train wyverns for the battle ahead. These witches are unlike any I’ve ever read about – worthy of a series all of their own!

Maas creates a truly believable fantasy world populated by richly drawn characters. We learn more about Dorian and Chaol, with a twist at the end I never saw coming (unusual for me!). The creatures Maas creates – the Skinwalkers for example – are excellent. They reminded me a little of George R. R. Martin’s White Walkers, with a creepy twist of their own.

Well-written, gripping epic fantasy. I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series!

Queen of Shadows (Book #4)51frdjedgl-_sx166_sy265_

Another wonderful installment in this series. Maas’s world building is great – and I love the supporting characters as much as the heroine. I particularly like the witch Manon Blackbeak and can’t wait to see how her character develops in the next book. The fact that I’m four books in and still want to keep reading says it all really. I don’t usually have the patience for long series but I’ll make an exception here. A real page turner – highly recommend!

Empire of Storms (Book #5)51qvjmwvsxl-_sx166_sy265_

A fantastic book – this series just keeps getting better and better!

It’s epic too – huge in its scope – and Maas manages to pull everything together. She has subplots, a massive cast of characters and a overarching theme that has been on a slow-burn since Book #1.

I really felt it all works.

This story surprised me, not just because of twists and turns, and the shock ending I didn’t see coming – but also because of the way the characters developed. For me, Aelin and Rowan were the least interesting characters in this novel. Sadly, Chaol disappears in this book but instead we have some great subplots with Dorian and Manon (I adore Manon – this woman deserves a series of her own!), Aedion and Lysandra, and Lorcan and Elide.

I think these three ‘secondary’ romances are actually more interesting than that of Rowan and Aelin (which I found a bit overplayed). There’s more grit, tension and realism in the developing relationships.

However, the best thing about this book is that it’s a sheer emotional roller-coaster. This is what makes epic fantasy such an incredible genre. Maas makes us feel as if we’re right there, as if it’s our world on the brink – as if Aelin is our queen. Long series often aren’t my thing; I tend to get bored. It shows real writing talent to be able to develop stories and characters over five books and still keep readers on their edge of their seats. Maas does this brilliantly.

Absolutely loved this book, and now have to sit on my hands and wait for the next installment.


So there you have it, my thoughts on this amazing series so far. As a writer of fantasy romance these novels really inspire me!

The stories are not without their faults (a slightly overplayed central love story, superhuman heroes and heroines instead of men and women we can relate to were my two main gripes) but the storytelling is so strong, the writing so seamless and the emotional connection so strong that I can forgive these – and that’s the test of a great story.