Blood Of The Gods – Parting The Veil

mealing_bloodofthegods-tpI am sorry I have been so slow with the reviews this month, there has been a lot to get through and talk about. August has been a hard month for a fantasy book to stand out in, simply because of how many good things have come out. There have been over nine books I was highly anticipating that have released in about a 5 week stint, and getting to them all is proving difficult – but worthwhile. Up today we have Blood of the Gods, by David Mealing. Blood is the sequel to Mealing’s debut book, Soul of the World, which you can find a review of here, and an interview about the book here. The long story short is that Soul of the World was a batshit crazy book, filled to the brim with batshit crazy magic, that embraced its batshit crazy and confusing nature to tell a great story. With the sequel I was intensely curious to see what direction Mealing would take the story, and I was impressed and engrossed with the result.

Blood of the Gods picks up right where Soul of the World left off, but talking about the plot is difficult, as a large part of their charm is slowly understanding what is going on. So, if I can’t tell you about the plot what can I tell you about? Well, I can tell you that you should read these books. Our story still follows the same three characters from book one: Sarine, an artist street urchin with a magical pet dragon; Arak’jur, a guardian of the one of the native tribes with powerful animal and elemental magic; and Erris, a high ranking military officer with magic bound to leylines through the land. They are joined by a new fourth POV, Tigai, who has an entirely new school of magic and whose story initially seems completely unrelated to our original trio. All four of the characters remain in great form and bring a lot of different personality to the story. In addition, I think it says a lot about the quality of character writing that I still remembered (fondly) the full range of support characters as I went into Blood of the Gods.

What is most interesting about Blood of the Gods is that the story starts to make a lot of concrete sense. Seemingly random powers and events from both book one and two start to be understandable, and slowly the puzzle of what is going on in the world will click in place. When Mealing first put out Soul of the World I thought that the book was somewhat chaotic because he had decided to embrace ridiculousness and was focusing more on telling an imaginative story than on one that was polished and streamlined. After reading Blood of the Gods I have realized that he was playing a long con, and that he is actually somehow doing both.

However, the real core of these books is their magic. Back when I reviewed Soul of the World, I commented on the fact that the number of magics in the book was frankly absurd. The characters of the story have a ridiculous number of powers, and by the end of the book I was just starting to get a handle on the 30 some powers I was trying to keep track of. I was looking forward to continuing to familiarize myself with these powers in book two, which was an incredibly naive thought that I imagine David would laugh at if he ever reads this review. Book two doubles down, and by that I mean he pretty much doubles the number of magics in the book. If this sounds insane, well you aren’t wrong, but as I briefly talked about in the last review – it works because Mealing knows what he is doing as an author. The powers are never used as a deus ex machina, and despite being insanely numerous, are fairly well-defined. Instead, Mealing has created a world where our protagonists are constantly meeting new people, friend and foe, that they have to assess and work with/around as they figure out their magic. It makes you excited to keep reading and see what new magical person will be on the next page. Mealing also has an impressive imagination, and despite being up to 40 some powers by the end of Soul of the World, the magics remained fun and inventive with little overlap.

I can only imagine how much planning must have gone into a storyboard and world of this scope. While the first book took place in a set of colonies who had thrown off their parent country American revolution style, the second book expands the scope massively to the full globe. We spend a significant amount of time on other continents and learning about a number of other culture and people. The worldbuilding is functional but slightly uninspired. Most of the people and places you will see are fairly obvious fantasy adaptations of our various real world peoples (Native Americans, American Colonies, Europe, Asia, etc.). There is nothing wrong with it, but it lacks the imaginative brilliance of Mealing’s magic systems. In addition, the plot mostly continued at a fast and exciting speed; however, the book is long and it did feel like it flagged a little around the 80% mark as it built to a climax. There was a prolonged battle scene involving Erris near the end of the book that felt slightly unnecessary to an already long book. At the end of the day though, this book was a fantastic read and these flaws did not do much to dampen my enthusiasm as I systematically tore through it.

Mealing has managed to get me to reassess his skill as an author with his second book, Blood of the Gods. While I initially thought he was a crazy imaginative author who might need a little polish; now I think he is a crazy imaginative author who clearly knows what he is doing. Mealing is an author with incredible potential, and if you can handle not knowing what is going on for a massive payoff, I highly recommend you check out both Soul of the World and Blood if the Gods. I just hope that at some point in the future Mealing releases an appendix of all the powers he has introduced in his story.

Rating: Blood of the Gods – 9.0/10
-Andrew

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Soul Of The World – An Interview With David Mealing

51vgtpwurcl-_sx322_bo1204203200_I have been really lucky recently, getting the chance to talk to multiple of this year’s debut authors. This week I got to talk with David Mealing about his massive new book, Soul of the World. It was a huge debut novel that impressed me with its numerous magic systems, giant scope, and interesting world: you can find the review here. Due to how big an undertaking the book seemed to be, I had a lot more questions about Mealing’s writing style compared to past interviews I have done, but there is still some great teasers for book two if you are looking for hints as to what is going to happen! Enjoy:

How would you elevator pitch Soul of the World? When I talk to other people and recommend it I find myself just gushing endlessly as I try to explain all the cool things in it. How would you sell it in one breath?

Fantasy is *so* hard to pitch. I’m terrible at it. That said, my go-to is: “French revolution with magic, set in an alternate-world colonial America. Think Marie Antoinette alongside a magic-infused Iroquois Confederacy.”

There’s a lot more going on in the book (and thank you for any gushing over it!), but I think that’s a fine starting point.

What is your writing process in general? What is the anchor or starting point for your story and how much of it do you map out in advance and how much is made up as you go?

I’m very strict on process. Three sessions per day, with a spreadsheet to track the output from each session against an overall daily/weekly/monthly goal. I’ve always found it hard to work for long periods on any given day – I need at least a few hours in between each writing session to let the scene and story arcs soak before I continue. Usually I’ll do 700-900 words right after I wake up, another 400-600 after lunch, then 500-1000 in the evening.

On the story side, I’m almost a pure discovery writer. I always know what to expect in the scene I’m writing now, the scene I’m writing next, and where the current ‘chunk’ fits in the overall arc of the book & series, but I’m also willing to let the story surprise me and take me in a different direction than I expected it to go. I’ve killed off characters and destroyed entire story arcs because an unexpected death fit the scene I was working on. And I’ve gone back and re-written 40,000+ word chunks because I had a better idea during editing. I find my discipline with daily output gives me the freedom to explore while also meeting deadlines – the best of both worlds, as it were.

Why so much magic? Did anyone tell you having so many magic systems was a bad idea? Did people think it was a good idea? Please tell me more about what your writing process for your magic was like.

Hah! Yes. This is one of the more common fights between me and my editor. Not that she doesn’t love the magic, she just wants to be sure I’ve fleshed each idea out enough and made it grokkable so it has the impact I want it to. (And incidentally, a light book 2 spoiler – let’s just say my editor and I have quite a bit more fighting to do about the number of new systems and powers introduced in the next volume in the trilogy!)

As for where the magic comes from – I write what fits the scene in my head. If it calls for a new magic system, I make one on the spot and polish it during revisions and editing. Very little to no planning beforehand; all the details, rules, powers, etc come about because a particular scene wants to showcase something new.

If you could only have one of your magic systems, which would it be?

No fair! I need them all to tell the story. And which one is my favorite depends on whichever scene I wrote last, most of the time. So right now, that would be a magic system you haven’t seen yet, from one of the epilogues in book 2… 🙂

All three magic systems were amazing, but I enjoyed Arak’Jur’s totem-esk magic the most. Do you have any magical beasts and powers that you rejected or removed from your novel because they didn’t work? If so, why?

Well thank you. I enjoyed writing those scenes immensely. Arak’Jur’s magic had almost no changes from the first draft, as far as how it worked mechanically. There was one power I gave him in an early scene that I cut and replaced with him using mareh’et instead, strictly to consolidate the number of powers and keep it grokkable. Otherwise it’s all as-originally-written.

One of the most interesting aspects of you magic was the effects of combining the various schools into new powers. Have you mapped out what all these combined effects will do already or are you playing it more by ear?

This was originally *much* more prevalent in the book, for Order magic (the leylines) especially. Originally every binding had different effects when paired with other bindings; at one point I’d mapped out a big matrix of combinations in a spreadsheet trying to keep them all straight. In the final draft though, we opted to streamline this and keep it much simpler – one of my editor’s better ideas, I think. She struggles to rein me in, and most of the time she succeeds, to the book’s benefit.

Where do we go next? The ending of your first novel was fantastic, but I don’t even know where we go next. What is the next stage/arc of your story (if you can share it)?

Again thank you! My goal for the series has always been to peel the onion one book at a time. In book one I introduce a core plot that’s mostly resolved by the end, with a metaplot revealed around the edges of the main story. Book two will fully reveal and resolve the metaplot from book one, but also reveal an even deeper layer, which will then be the focus of book three.

This was your first novel and a huge undertaking, What lessons have you learned from working on Soul of the World that you want to apply to writing book 2?

SOUL OF THE WORLD was my first attempt at writing creative fiction of any kind. I grew an enormous amount as a writer while writing & revising it – with full credit to my editor, my agent, the agency president, and all of my other advance readers (especially my wife!) for helping me get there. As a result, book two’s first draft was a much tighter manuscript than the first drafts of SOUL. I had to rewrite over a hundred thousand words of SOUL before it was ready to shop to potential agents; book two should hopefully see us spending more time on polish and less on fixing rookie mistakes. Otherwise, book two is already turned in and I’m currently waiting for first reactions from my editor. So let’s hope it goes smoothly from here!

In Soul of the World we saw that most of the action in the story is happening in the colonies, but that there is an entire second continent with it’s own countries and people. Since so much of your magic is tied to location, do you plan on visiting other lands in the story or focusing just on the current surroundings?

As the series progresses we’re going to travel a *lot*. Book two will take us west across the New World, across the sea to the Old World, even to undiscovered continents (plural!) that wouldn’t have appeared on any maps in book one. The story gets bigger in a hurry, though I still try to keep things focused on the characters as they respond to the challenges in front of them.

Are you a big reader of fantasy yourself? What are some of your favorite books? What is the last book that you read (of any genre) that you would recommend?

Very much so. Jacqueline Carey’s KUSHIEL’S DART is my favorite book of all time. I grew up devouring and re-devouring Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME series whenever a new book came out. I adore Robert E. Howard’s CONAN stories and other classic swords & sorcery stuff like Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. N.K. Jemisin continues to amaze me with everything she writes. Additional plugs for Brandon Sanderson, Pat Rothfuss, Juliet Marillier, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Mary Robinette Kowal.

The last book I read was READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline. I loved the audiobook so much I went and bought a physical copy to read too. Can’t recommend it enough, both the audio version and the printed edition. Some of the most compelling storytelling I’ve consumed in years.

What in Soul of the World are you most proud of? Which character, magic, part of the world, or element were you most excited to share with other people?

This answer could change on any given day, but today I’ll say Sarine and Zi. I’ve been the lonely kid watching the world from a distance, and I would have given anything for a magical companion to share it with. These days I have my amazing wife & daughters, but I hope Sarine and Zi’s story connects with people and inspires them to want to be as creative and fearless as she is.

Thank you David for talking with me, and I am super pumped for book two. If you haven’t checked out Soul of the World yet, I implore you to go give it a shot!

Soul Of The World – A New Frontier Of Magic

51vgtpwurcl-_sx322_bo1204203200_This week I get to do one of my absolute favorite things, talk about a new dark horse on the 2017 release list. I love magic systems, and today’s book has not one, not two, but three original magical systems to sink your teeth into. Soul of the World is a debut novel by David Mealing that has taken me completely by surprise. I had heard almost nothing about this book until someone handed me an advanced copy, and I was blown away by how much I enjoyed it. As such, I am making it my miniature mission to shout to all of you how much fun it is because while you may not have heard of it, it is definitely worth checking out.

They say when you write your first book you should start small, which is apparently a saying that Mealing did not care about. Soul of the World is a huge epic fantasy and just the opening chapter of a complicated and interesting world. The book is set in a semi-alternate history American revolutionary war, except that the English and the French have switched places in the story. The book is initially very confusing with regards as to what is going on, but it is still a blast to read as you try to get your feet on solid ground. Our plot follows three protagonists, each a paragon of one of the three magic systems and a window into three different factions in our story. What is actually happening in the book is a bit of a spoiler, and a mystery I greatly enjoyed unraveling, so instead I am going to focus on the character and magic for this review. Strap in, it’s going to be much longer that usual but I promise you this is worth your time.

First, we have Sarine, a street artist living in the ghettos of the new world using her unique magical talents to survive and scrape out a living. I immediately fell in love with her as a lead and always looked forward to her chapters. Sarine’s magic revolves around a Kaas, a snake/basilisk-like familiar that allows her to manipulate the emotions of those around her. Usually I am not a fan of ‘mind control’ magic as it can make conflict resolution too easy, but Mealing’s take on the concept is much more up my alley. Sarine’s Kaas familiar can influence others, but only by broadcasting things like anger to incite riots, or emanating tranquility to calm a crowd. It is a much less precise form of emotional control than I have seen before – and Mealing uses it to create some interesting situations. Sarine is a solitary, and rather sad, character who spends most of her time talking with her familiar. Her sweet nature and strong moral code won my heart quickly and I enjoyed her story through the entire book.

Second we have Arak’Jur, a tribesman who functions as a Native American surrogate. Originally Arak’Jur was my least favorite lead, but by the end of the book he was easily my favorite. A large part of the book revolves around huge and dangerous magical beasts that roam the continent our characters inhabit. While the English/French live behind a giant magical barrier that keeps the beasts out, the natives have human guardians who protect their tribes by killing the beasts. When a beast is killed, the guardian may beseech the spirit of the animal to give them a boon if the animal was impressed with the guardian’s prowess. These boons allow the guardian to channel some aspect of the beast for a short period of time. I. Love. This. Magic. I cannot begin to express how invested I got in Arak’Jur’s story once I got to see how his magic worked. Mealing is incredibly inventive with his magical beasts, and every time I opened to one of Arak’Jur’s chapters I was bouncing in my chair with excitement to see the next creature that Mealing had made, and what new amazing power that Arak’Jur might get. My original problem with Arak’Jur was he seemed to be a cliche depiction of a Native American and I was going to lambast Mealing for not making him more complex. However, as I spent more time with this stoic and stubborn man I found his personality to be deeper than I originally gave him credit for, and I grew to be more attached to him than anyone else. He can feel like a stick in the mud sometimes, but if you stick with him he will blossom.

The third and final lead is Erris, and I ended up liking her the least despite her having probably the most original of all the magic systems. My problem with Erris was less with her as a character, and more with the fact that she is a high ranking officer in the French military and as a result her chapters highly revolve around military strategy. I am a fan of strategy and tactics, but I felt that a decent number of Erris’s passages could drag as they were bogged down by logistical minutia. However, her magic is called binding and is based on territorial control – which is awesome. Binders are born with access to a few of the many ley lines running throughout the world – and each country in the story has access to a number of leylines equal to the size of their territorial control. This creates this weird and awesome need to keep expanding the size of your country and made conflict constantly feel natural and inevitable. Binders can sense pockets of power around them that gather when the corresponding emotion or aspect is concentrated in that location. The easiest example of this is if a lot of people die someone, Death binders will find a pocket of ‘Death’ to fuel their magic. I am not doing this system enough justice with this paragraph, trust me it is cool.

On top of having just a ridiculous number (3) of magic systems, our characters gain an insane number of powers as the book progresses. In most fantasy novels I have read, you might have a protagonist find one or two new powers in a story and then spend the entire book contemplating how it changes their lives. I kept a counter next to me as I read Soul of the World, and by the halfway mark the protagonists had collectively gained over twenty new powers. If you had asked me what I thought of characters gaining that many new powers before reading this, I would have said I bet the story devolves into an incoherent mess. But, while Soul of the World certainly gets messy, it is a mess that is fun to roll around in that has a clear underlying cohesion that runs through it. Things get really exciting when characters start combining their powers, adding endless freshness to the combat, and when some characters start mixing the different magic systems I was clawing at the pages with unbridled joy.

While I have just given you a truck load of reasons to go out and buy this debut immediately, I would be remiss if I didn’t also do my job and talk about its flaws. The combat is thrilling, but the general prose of the book could definitely use some polish. As I was reading Soul of the World I could definitely tell that this was Mealing’s first book and some of his word choice, phrasing, and dialogue could be improved a little bit. However, this is very typical of a first novel in my experience and I am sure that as he continues to churn out more awesome books his authorial voice will only get better.

Soul of the World is a magical book, almost overflowing with originality. The few problems I had with the narrative were vastly outweighed by the fascinating world, fun characters, and captivating magic that pervade the story. I have no doubt that this book will be considered a hidden gem for the next few months, but I hope that with help from myself and others, enough people will pick this up to give it the attention it deserves. The Quill to Live definitely recommends you give David Mealing, and Soul of the World, a chance.

Rating: Soul of the World – 8.5/10