Kiwi Author Breaks North American Stranglehold on Amazon’s 2014 Top Romance Picks

Bernadette Rowley:

Have your say here on the top 20 books for 2014 as nominated by Amazon Editors. What do you think?

Originally posted on Romance Writers of Australia:

Amazon editors have released their annual Best Books lists, including their pick of this year’s romance novels. We were delighted to find, Nalini Singh, New Zealand’s Queen of Paranormal Romance, firmly entrenched on this best books’ list. Nalini, who was nominated for the Psy/Changeling series novel Shield of Winter, was the only non-North American author to feature on the 2014 list. All the rest were US citizens with the exception of Canadian indie author Sarah Castille, who squeaked in at #20.

Nalini Singh composite

Lists are great places to pick up on trends and find out what others are reading. They also generate debate. This particular list is quality-based on the Amazon editors’ preferences rather than being based on absolute numerical values such as the number of books sold. However, most, if not all, of these authors are NY Times and USA Today bestselling authors, proving once again that quality and popularity

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The Mermaid

Mermaid 1(123)My fantasy elements series rolls on today with the mythical mermaid, nemesis of sailors. Mermaids have appeared in the folklore of many cultures worldwide. This aquatic legend has the upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. It is thought that the sea nymphs arose from sightings of dugong but anyone who has seen a dugong would be sceptical of this.

In fantasy literature, mermaids are sprinkled throughout though nowhere near as common a fantasy icon as witches or dragons. The most memorable mermaids made an appearance in The Little Mermaid, a tale first published in 1837 by Hans Christian Anderson. Hans tells the story of a young mermaid, willing to give up life in the ocean and her mermaid identity to win the love of a human prince.

Stephen Donaldson had half human mystical hybrids called mer-wives in his ‘Chronicles of Thomas Covenant’

We also find mermaids, or at least mer people (people of the sea) in JK Rowling’s The Goblet of Fire.

 

Potter merpeopleHere and there at the dark windows, Harry saw faces…faces that bore no resemblance at all to the painting of the mermaid in the prefects’ bathroom… The merpeople had grayish skin and long, wild, dark green hair. Their eyes were yellow, as were their broken teeth, and they wore thick ropes of pebbles around their necks.

 

These mer people sound a far cry from those we traditionally think of.

In Doctor Who, The Curse of the Black Spot, a mysterious monster rears her head. When our three stowaways appear in their blue box, aboard a 17th century pirate ship, the crew is being mesmerized one by one by the haunting song of a beautiful siren. Her attention means certain death.

And that is the common theme amongst mermaid legend: that the sea nymphs appear to sailors at sea, singing their haunting songs, and the sailors are lured to their death, drowning in the ocean. Mermaids may be beautiful but their attraction has a deadly side effect.

Coastal Scene (123)- cliffsIn my third fantasy novel, which I will have more news on soon, my heroine is a mermaid. Merielle has just never ‘fit in’ amongst her people. She makes a decision to flee her family, rather than take part in their murderous activities. Merielle is found by naval captain Nikolas Cosara, washed up on his beach. Having been a sailor for decades and with his brother recently lost at sea, Nik has every reason to hate Merielle. She, on the other hand, has seized on a plan to make a human love her and so become a human woman. Suffice to say that the relationship between these two is turbulent.

The working title of this book is Love Thy Enemy and it has been an amazing and at times difficult ride to explore the possibilities of a mermaid as heroine of a romance novel. I think it very possible that the mer people will return in coming stories.

 

 

 

 

Sorceror

GandalfMagic is essential in fantasy fiction so how could I have a series on fantasy elements without including the sorcerer? You may know him as the wizard or magician if you are a fan of the genre. This character can be the hero or he might be a mentor as was Merlin for Arthur of Camelot. Other famous wizard mentors are Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings and Dumbledore from Harry Potter. Of course, a sorcerer can also be the  villain as was Voldemort who used his abilities for evil and was the nemesis of Harry Potter.

Some of my favourite stories are built around a wizard as he comes into his power, from normal human weakling to all powerful world saviour. This can come about as a result of innate ability, through study or even as a gift from an all-powerful being. You need a long series to accomplish this or even perhaps several series such as Raymond E. Feist used to bring Pug from castle boy to world changing sorcerer. In fact Pug coming into power encompassed two worlds which could be accessed via a rift. But that’s a topic for another day.

Harry PotterWhat magic does a sorcerer wield? I feel that the magic of the sorcerer is quite different to that of the witch, both in the manner of the magic and in the delivery.

Wizards, being male, are more likely to use their magic to fight a war, to directly kill or influence events. The wielding of their magic is often via weapons of violence such as swords, knives and spears. A sorcerer may cast down bolts of lightning from his very fingertips or use his magic to project his voice to the masses. The wand was the favoured magical tool in the Harry Potter series with this tool being unique for each wielder.

Wizard 1This is a sweeping statement but generally, the magic of the sorcerer is not as subtle as that of witches. There is an element of patience in the magic produced by females. They are much more likely to use their magic to manipulate, setting into motion a series of events over which they may have little control. Male wielders of magic tend to be more up front, casting their spells for immediate and devastating effect.

The wizard can appear in any form but generally in fantasy this character will be clothed in robes, have white hair and often a flowing beard. He is easily recognisable, as someone who is wise and powerful, by his looks and bearing. The sorcerer is generally of advanced age, and may even live much longer than the rest of society. He will generally have an exalted position such as at the side of the king or perhaps as the headmaster of a school as Dumbledore was at Hogwarts. However, some of my favourite wizards lived very humble existences, even to being nomadic as Gandalf was in Lord of the Rings.

Wizard 2Lord Acton once said: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. One of the most delicious aspects of fantasy fiction is the potential for internal conflict created by this fact. At some point, the wizard will be faced with a choice or several choices or even whether to intervene at all. In a fight between two opposing forces, which side should he take? He may have the power to bring someone back from the dead but should he exercise that power? What effects will his magic have in the long term? There might be certain magics that are traditionally forbidden because of their far reaching effects. Is it ever acceptable to use this magic? Sorcerers are continually walking the fine line between good and evil.

But as the wizard battles enemies, changes worlds and fights his own demons he will ever remain a critical component of fantasy fiction.

 

Mr Robbie Williams

Last week I saw Robbie Williams in concert for the first time. It was a pinch me moment and you could say I’ve ticked off the premiere item on my unofficial bucket list. I say unofficial as I’m not good with lists and don’t actually have an official scribed bucket list.

IMG_0479We had good seats and it was an amazing experience. The set was beautiful, the dancers were skilled, the backup singers could have staged their own concert and Robbie Williams demonstrated why he is, in my opinion, the best entertainer in the world. He can sing and the live performance of both his original songs and his swing portfolio was flawless. That’s the measure of a gifted singer- when their live performance sounds as good as their recorded version.

IMG_0493Robbie looked as though he was truly enjoying himself up on stage. He personalised the night for the Brisbane crowd, sang SHOUT, interacted with the audience: oh to have been the lucky woman involved in the mock wedding OR the lady who had her backside signed by the great man himself. Imagine having that tattoo!

IMG_0499Sadly I have only my memories and a key ring to take away from the night but I think that’s more than enough. I hope I get the chance to go again and having seen this concert, I so wish I had been able to catch the 2006 version.

Thankyou, Robbie Williams. You’ve brought a lot of joy to many lives and it’s great to see you finally enjoying your life and your family. I loved the song with his father!

May the great man bring us many more songs and concerts!

The Witch

Wicket Witch of the WestMagic is integral to high fantasy and ‘the witch’ is central to the magic in many of these stories. The witch or sorceress wields her magic for good or ill and is often maligned. Popular culture is adorned with witches of all kinds, from the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz to one of my personal favourites, Polgara in David Eddings’ Belgariad series. Classically, the witch is hideous, with warts and whiskers. She might fly on a broom and make potions which can turn a man into a toad or make a princess sleep for a hundred years. Our fairy tales are full of nasty witches.

SorceressHowever in high fantasy, it is very common for a sorceress to be a force for good and also to be beautiful. Polgara could shift into the shape of an owl and was a powerful positive influence in the communities she worked in. The Aes sedai in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series were servants of all and devoted to various and distinct pursuits. Whether they were healing the sick, fighting wars, seeking justice and knowledge or mediating in kingdom disputes, they were virtuous- most of the time.

Hermione GrangerThis is one of the attractions of fantasy: that there is such variety. Your witch can be the most evil woman who has ever walked your world or she can be the saviour of that world. She can be the heroine or she can be the mentor, guiding the hero in his coming into power, as Polgara did for Belgarion and Moraine did for Rand in The Wheel of Time series.

Belatrix LestrangeIn Princess Avenger, I have a ‘classic’ witch, Hetty, who is Princess Alecia’s mentor. Alecia has no mother so Hetty fills this void and is always on hand to give sage advice or heal a wound if Alecia gets herself into hot water. She crops up again in The Lady’s Choice where a spell she casts at the behest of Squire Ramón causes a bucket load of trouble.  In The Lady’s Choice, Benae appears to be a normal woman, but she can speak mind to mind with her horse and she can delve and heal with her mind.

The Lady's Choice Cover- high resI guess it’s not surprising that much of magic is centred on healing. In my fantasy world, medicine was primitive and a magical cure could save a queen or send a valued soldier back to the battlefield. Many modern techniques and medicines are still regarded as magical.

But no matter how the magic is used, witches in fantasy stand apart. They may do good but they are regarded with suspicion because they aren’t understood. This makes them lonely and puts them at risk. They guard their privacy and often live in a community in disguise. Witches and sorceresses live their secret lives with the people but their influences can extend right to the throne and beyond.

No wonder I love fantasy!

The Fantasy World

Kain JazaraOver the last two posts I’ve outlined the sword and the quest, two critical components of high fantasy and both very close to my heart. Today, my exploration will lead us into The Fantasy World.

Coastal Scene (123)- cliffsIn many fantasies, the world takes on the status of a character and many authors spend innumerable hours in what we writers call world-building. For some authors, the world will come first and they won’t start writing until all the rules and geography of the world is in place. Many readers love being taken out of their land and dropped into the middle of a different realm, one that can come to be as familiar to them as their everyday surroundings. If the author has done their job, the fantasy world makes sense to the reader and everything that occurs in the story follows the rules of that reality.

High fantasy worlds are antiquated, their technology roughly Middle Ages or pre industrial. Life is hard, people die young of diseases, wars are fought in hand to hand combat, ladies wear extravagant gowns and the men, breeches. Travel is by foot, horse or carriage and food is harvested by hand. The world may even have a map as most authors want to be able to visualise their worlds. Maps help the author to get distances and travel times right as well as directions. As a fantasy reader, I love maps as they help me to orient myself in that world.

RainforestThe most important aspect of high fantasy worlds which sets them apart from reality is magic. Magic can take many forms. It may come from witches and warlocks or from the forest itself. Dragons and other creatures can have magic powers. In Princess Avenger, the magic potions of Hetty the witch come up against the transformative talents of Vard the shape shifter. Benae, in The Lady’s Choice, had a magical talent for healing and also the gift of being able to speak mind to mind with her horse Flaire. Magic in fantasy stories is only limited by the imagination of the author. It is what takes a life a drudgery and pain and creates wonder and light and perhaps a triumph of good over evil.

The Lady's Choice Cover- high resSo, imagine the world of the Middle Ages, add magic and you have The Fantasy World. No wonder so many of us are captivated by this genre.

 

The Quest

Arrow in full kitIn fantasy stories, there is usually a quest or an epic journey towards a goal. This often involves much travel and exposes the reader to exotic characters and locations. What sort of goal am I talking about? The journey is usually undertaken by a hero or heroine with the help of others. They may have to find a mythical sword or convey a magical ring of power through enemy territory in the hope of destroying it; all the while, keeping the object from falling into the hands of the evil lord, of course.

There may be several books needed to finish the tale. In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, the quest was to destroy the dark lord for once and for all. Hero Rand had to come into his power to achieve this as did many of the other characters.

Benae prayingThe fantasy genre is the champion of the series and the reason for this is the quest. You don’t solve all of the world’s pressing concerns in one book, especially if your hero must grow into their power before they can achieve their goal. The momentum of the quest swings back and forwards between good and evil, keeping the reader on tenterhooks. At the close of each book, there will be an ending, but not THE ending.

Princess Avenger High Res CoverIn a fantasy romance, the hero and heroine will be on a quest to win true love, but both may also have secondary journeys. These often get in the way of the primary goal which is a happily ever after. In Princess Avenger, Vard and Alecia are drawn to each other, but Alecia’s vendetta and Vard’s need for a mentor threaten the achieving of their true love. The same could be said in The Lady’s Choice. Ramon’s quest to find Alecia, and Benae’s drive to marry a wealthy prince, make it almost impossible to achieve a future together.

The Lady's Choice Cover- high resAt the end of a long quest, when the reader has devoted hours to following the hero on their journey of growth and achievement, there is nothing more satisfying than the attainment of that goal whether it be peace on Earth or true love.