Four Feasts Till Darkness
Christian A. Brown
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Date of Publication: September 9, 2014
Number of pages: 540
Word Count: 212K
"Love is what binds us in brotherhood, blinds us from hate, and makes us soar with desire.”
Morigan lives a quiet life as the handmaiden to a fatherly old sorcerer named Thackery. But when she crosses paths with Caenith, a not wholly mortal man, her world changes forever. Their meeting sparks long buried magical powers deep within Morigan. As she attempts to understand her newfound abilities, unbidden visions begin to plague her--visions that show a devastating madness descending on one of the Immortal Kings who rules the land.
With Morigan growing more powerful each day, the leaders of the realm soon realize that this young woman could hold the key to their destruction. Suddenly, Morigan finds herself beset by enemies, and she must master her mysterious gifts if she is to survive.
Menos was darker than usual: its clouds as black as the shadow of fear that haunted Mouse. The city
felt more menacing to her. She saw shadows in every corner, noticed the glint of every ruffian’s blade or slave’s chain as though they were all intended for her. The warning of Alastair played inside her skull on a loop of nightmare theater.
A hand over her mouth startles her awake, and she twists for the dagger in her pillowcase until she recognizes the shadowy apparition atop her, who hisses at her to calm.
“Alastair?” she gasps.
The hand unclenches and the willowy shadow retreats to more of its own; she can only see the scruff of his red beard in the dark.
“Get up, Mouse. Get dressed.”
Her mentor sounds annoyed or confused; she is each, but finds her garments quickly enough anyway.
“I don’t like good-byes, so let’s not call this that,” Alastair says with a sigh. “But it will be a parting, nonetheless. You need to go low. Lower than you’ve ever been before. A new name won’t be enough. You’ll need a new face. I don’t know how or who, but the sacred contract of our order has been broken. Your safety has been bought.”
Mouse knows the who and how, and as she glances up from her boot-lacing to explain to her mentor her predicament, she sees that he is gone. Just empty shadows, echoing words, and the sound of her heartbeat drowning out all the rest.
She expected the dead man and his icy master to emerge from the dim nooks and doorways of the buildings she passed at any instant. With a hand on her knives and a fury to her step, she swept down the sidewalk; no carriages for her today, as they were essentially cages on wheels—too easy to trap oneself in. With its sooty storefronts and their wrought-iron windows, its black streetlamps that rose about her like the bars of a prison, Menos was constricting itself around her, and she had to get out.
You’ve survived worse than the nekromancer, she coached herself, though she wasn’t certain that was true. She hurried through the grimness of Menos, dodging pale faces and quickening her step with every sand. By the time she arrived at the fleshcrafter’s studio, she was sweating and stuck to her cloak. She looked down the desolate sidewalk and up the long sad face of the tall tower with its many broken or boarded-over windows. When she was sure she wasn’t being pursued by the phantoms that her paranoia had conjured, she pulled back a rusted door that did not cry out as it should have, given its appearance, but slid along well-formed grooves through the dust. She raced through the door and hauled it closed.
It was dark and flickering with half-dead lights in the garbage-strewn hallway in which she stood. Mouse picked through the trash with her feet, tensing as she passed every dark alcove in the abandoned complex. Hives, these places were called, and used to house enormous numbers of lowborn folk under a single roof. In Menos, even the shabbiest roof was a desirable commodity, so the building’s ghostly vacancy meant that it likely was condemned by disease at one point. Soon the stairwell she sought appeared, and she tiptoed down it, careful not to slip on the stairs, which were slick with organic grunge.
Couldn’t have picked a nicer studio, she cursed. I’ll be lucky if this fleshcrafter leaves me with half a lip to drink with. Lamentably, speed and discretion were her two goals in choosing where to have her face remodeled. Such stipulations cut the more promising fleshcrafters off the list and left her with the dregs. She hadn’t put much thought into what she would have done, or even if she would end up hideously disfigured. Monstrous disfigurement could even work in her favor, as she bore an uncanny resemblance to that crow-eviscerated woman whom she suspected was the object of the nekromancer’s dark desire. I’ll take ugly over dead. Over whatever he has in mind for me.
GUEST POST BY CHRISTIAN A BROWN
Just a second, everyone put away the pitchforks and stop brandishing those Gertrude Stein books at me as if they can compel the misogynistic demon from my flesh. This isn’t a diatribe on feminism in literature–I wouldn’t dare to touch such a heavy subject without an array of facts at my disposal. As a fantasy writer, I don’t really deal in facts, as much as possibilities. What I would like to discuss is the portrayal of women in fantasy, what I like, and what I don’t like, what I think needs changing. I’d like to keep this dialog as uncontroversial as possible, and focus on how these characters are written, more than diving into the societal influences that make writers craft women in this manner. That’s psychology, and I’m not a psychologist. Okay, moving on, I’ll start with the stuff I can’t stand–expect hyperbole and potential cussing.
Women who are powerless. To me, nothing is more irritating than watching a female lead take a backseat to the action. I understand that characters need time to “grow” into their heroism, however, the foundations for that backbone should have been laid prior to that mettle being tested in a life-or-death situation. Otherwise, my suspension of disbelief is being tested. Even if a heroine is in a situation from which she cannot escape, she should always be thinking of escape, and not complacent with her miserable existence. At least that spark of free-will can be convincing impetus for a future act of daring. In the event that your heroine ends up chained in a basement, and awaiting the most wretched fate imaginable, she should be testing her chains, wondering who she can pounce on when they enter her cell, or looking for a rat bone to pick her irons. Whatever. She should be doing something, or sure that she will somehow live. That fire for life is what keeps me, as a reader hooked. When characters give up, so do I.
Women who are overly negative. As a man who writes some pretty snappy ladies, this can be a delicate act to balance. Cynicism is fine, particularly if that character has endured hardships. But when all she does is harp, or whine, or question her strength, that character becomes as unpleasant as the people in real life who do that. You know that friend that you have who calls you up to complain about her weight/ marriage/ job? Negative Nancy the sorceress, can have the same tone and repellence. Negativity can serve a purpose, and a hero should always suffer moments of doubt. But the strongest people do so silently, or among their closest allies, and never often or vocally (unless they are giving a rousing speech against their injustice). Finding a balance with humor, can help to offset a character with a naturally acerbic demeanor. At least it gives the reader something else to focus on.
Women who need to be constantly saved (usually by an all-powerful figure). Similar to the first point, although I believe it deserves its own mention. Getting saved once by your beau, assuming our heroine has exhausted all of her resourcefulness, and is really, truly, screwed, is fine. Sometimes, despite everything, we just cannot extricate ourselves from a mess. We need help. Alright. Help arrives. Then, she trips and falls down a well in another ten pages. Shortly after calling for help and being rescued, she decides to go for a walk in the Forest of Ultimate Evil. Probably a bad idea, given the name, but this girl (I've demoted her from womanhood for her naiveté), doesn’t have the good sense God gave a toothpick. Don’t worry, here comes Damien Glorylocks–knight, and secret royal blood of a long forgotten dynasty–to save Clueless. From now on, we’ll just refer to my sample heroine by that name, as it tends to sum up a lot of decisions that writers place in the minds of their female leads.
Stupidity. Coming off that last point. How stupid can one character be? Okay, we all make dumb decisions. In fact, its necessary for characters to do one or two things in error, and thereafter grow from that experience. The key here is grow. Grow. As in, not do that stupid thing, or comparable act of stupidity again. If you’re on the 3rd arc of your trilogy and your character is still figuring out the fundamentals of how to control her dragon-blood, faery-magic, or whatever, then you have a problem. Similarly, if you’re deep into your story and Clueless still can’t figure out why the Dark Elves want her dead so badly, then you probably haven’t done a good enough job as a writer giving the reader–and potentially Clueless–information. Readers like to be in the know, and if your character is being kept in the dark, often treating your audience the same risks aliening them. So if these scenarios are occurring in your books, then your character (and audience) is not learning, they are not growing. And if you’ve watched one season of Honey Boo Boo, you’ve watched them all.
The only thrill in that entertainment is in watching the mediocrity unfold. We do not want our stories to be banal, we want them to be inspiring, and teaching of greatness. Mediocrity is for the real world, it has no place in fantasy.
Things I like. Here, we have a shorter list, as most of these things are self-explanatory.
Normal characters. By this I mean, they have no supreme, miracle, magic. No great hidden power. These women are just tough as nails, and have learned how to kick life in the balls. Almost universally, readers like these sorts of characters. Sure, later on in the story-line, that character may struggle to hang with their mystical friends, and as end-of-the-world events unfold, it takes a deft narrative hand to weave them through those troubles unscathed. Still, the value of a normal character in an otherwise epic fantasy cannot be understated, for they create a bridge between our world and the fantasy.
Women who make their own choices. Decisiveness. I love this trait in characters. As a storyteller, characters who do not waver with indecision, move the story forward at a steady pace. Otherwise, you can end up wasting pages on internal dialog, which can make a character seem weak, which then threatens to lose the reader.
Women who fight. I’m not saying that every heroine has to be a martial expert, but even a princess can have lessons in fencing, and if you make the heroine a blacksmith’s daughter, she would surely know how to swing a blade. Again, this cycles back to women being helpless, which I personally hate to read.
Witty, curious women. Witty, is not the same as bitchy–another fine line that can be crossed. And curiosity may have killed the cat, but it shouldn’t kill the heroine. A sense for questioning order, a rebellious spirit, and someone who can take the slings-and-arrows of life with the occasional laugh, all make for engaging characters.
I hope that my ramblings have been thought, and not anger, provoking. Do keep in mind that the above represents only my opinions, and there are as many ways to write characters as there are writers in the world. These are just my pet-peeves, and the pitfalls that I try to avoid.
Christian A. Brown has written
creatively since the age of six. After
spending most of his career in the health
and fitness industry, Brown quit his job
to care for his mother when she was
diagnosed with non-Hodgkins
lymphoma in 2010.
Having dabbled with the novel that
would eventually become Feast of Fates
for over a decade, Brown was finally
able to finish the project. His mother,
who was able to read a beginning
version of the novel before she passed
away, has since imbued the story with
deeper sentiments of loss, love, and
meaning. He is proud to now share the
finished product with the world.