Book One of The Swans' War
Readers familiar with my historically based fantasies will be a bit surprised by The One Kingdom. It's much more of a traditional fantasy than the others.
I've long avoided writing anything that could be called "high fantasy" to distinguish myself from the many imitators of Tolkien, but I've always been intrigued by the idea of writing a high fantasy. Was it possible to write a fantasy in the spirit of Tolkien but not in the manner? What was it about most high fantasy that left me cold?
The One Kingdom is my attempt to answer these questions. What has bothered me about most high fantasy is that the authors seem to get the tropes right but never manage to imbue the world with a real sense of magic. Sure there are magic swords, practitioners of magic, dragons etc, but for all that the worlds described always seem quite mundane and often unbelievable.
The One Kingdom grew out of two quite separate ideas. For a long time I'd been kicking around the idea of a group of characters travelling down a river by raft, reliving, in very odd forms, many of the events in Huckleberry Finn - but all in a fantasy setting. The second idea was to have two feuding families, like the Montagues and the Capulets, who'd split a kingdom over who would succeed the throne. It took me a long time to realize that these stories actually went together.
Of course almost nothing remains of the original ideas. The raft trip down the river became a boat trip and only one event at all mirrors anything that happened to Huck and Jim, and even this is all but unrecognizable in the final draft. New ideas appeared as I worked; things like the story finder, a character who goes from place to place and "finds" the stories of the people who once lived in those locations. It's a kind of mystical archeology - instead of the artifacts that suggest stories we get the stories themselves.
Using a much more familiar landscape (I think of the high fantasy setting as sanitized medieval) than in my past books presented quite a challenge. Trying to breath new life into it kept me up many nights racking my poor brain. Whether I've done what I set out to do... well, that's for readers to judge.
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