Kingshold (The Wildfire Cycle #1) by D.P. Woolliscroft #SPFBO Review

KingsholdKingshold was one of the books that I chose to read completely and review for the first phase of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.  It is, without doubt, an impressive debut and a strong foundation for the rest of the series and in fact was a very close contender for my finalist spot.

The story begins with the murder of the King and Queen by none other than their own wizard, Jyuth.  It seems Jyuth had finally had enough of their wicked ways and decided to take drastic action to remove them from further rule of Edland.  Jyuth, tired of the scheming nobility decrees that the monarchy be abolished and replaced instead with a democracy.  Of course this sounds like it could be ideal, an elected Lord Protector, chosen by the majority vote.  The reality is somewhat different.  Few people are eligible to stand as candidates and even fewer people can afford to vote – certainly the unwashed masses could not afford to whisper their favoured candidate into a pixie ear.  But, there is strength in numbers and with that in mind a small band of unlikely friends come together to promote their own champion and rally the masses. What could possibly go wrong?  Well, in a city that has its own guild of assassins I leave you to reach your own conclusion.

The book contains a number of characters and it’s easy to find favourites.  Jyuth is an ancient wizard.  He seems to be incredibly powerful, a bit curmudgeonly and has a dreadful reputation for not suffering fools.  I found myself liking Jyuth immediately but I liked his daughter, Neenahwi, even more.  We meet Neenahwi as she is undertaking a dangerous quest involving a demon and a search for a powerful gem.  She’s a very easy to like character.  Resourceful, calm and intelligent.  She’s not very happy with Jyuth, not only for throwing the City into a turmoil with the deaths of the monarchs and the introduction of a new democracy but also because he plans to slope off into retirement leaving her smack bang in the middle of all the mess.  Alana is a young woman who takes a position at the palace only to find herself being allocated to serve Jyuth.  This actually turns out in her favour.  Alana is keen to learn and Jyuth enjoys teaching a lively young mind keen for information. Mareth is a bard.  He’s a bit of a drunk and a womaniser to boot but his songs seem to hold power over people and when his talents for charming the crowds are spotted by others he’s enlisted to help one of the candidates.  The plan goes somewhat askew as candidates start to be picked off one by one.  The other players are Hoskins, who acts as a type of administrator and stand-in Lord Protector at the palace and a trio of mercenaries in search of their next job.

At first, it felt like there were quite a few characters to come to terms with but they pretty soon all slotted into place and eventually they come together as their storylines intersect.  Obviously, everyone will have their own favourites but thankfully I didn’t dislike any of the povs and in fact thought the secondary characters were also easy to like.

The story, whilst it revolves primarily around the election and the candidates rush to curry favour and accumulate votes (not to mention desperately trying to stay alive) also takes a couple of side tracks – a diversion involving dwarves and a threat of invasion.  The pacing felt a little slow at the beginning whilst I became familiar with everyone but it pretty quickly gathered momentum.  I think, to be honest, this could probably be trimmed a little to make it a little more punchy but in fairness, I really didn’t struggle at all and I never experienced the dreaded ‘not wanting to pick the book back up after stopping reading’ which sometimes happens.

In terms of setting the majority of the story takes place in Edland.  This is a mediaeval type city that is fairly easy to imagine.  I wouldn’t say there’s anything groundbreaking here but it feels easily recognisable and quite well drawn without the need for weighty descriptions. I guess you could say it has a comfortable feel.

I don’t really have any major criticisms.  I think this is a very well executed book.  The writing is good, the concept pretty unique and the characters come together in a pleasing way.  Personally, I didn’t love Mareth as much as I felt I should.  In his favour, his character really does make some positive changes but I remain on the fence about him for the time being.  The other thing that puzzled me when I read it and in fact still puzzles me now writing this review is the invasion/pirate scene.  I don’t want to give away spoilers so my comments are necessarily vague but, firstly, I didn’t see that coming – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but, secondly, I’m not quite sure what it brought to the story and I feel like I’ve missed something important somehow – however, I put that down to myself, clearly I’ve overlooked something fundamental.

All told, this is a great start to a series that I look forward to continuing.  I have to say that going into this read I had my doubts.  I figured that reading a fantasy story centred around an election process would probably be a little dry.  As it turned out this was a fun read with some well placed humour, the election is more a backdrop and a catalyst for change in a story that becomes more about taking up a cause and doing the right thing in order to succeed, well, that and all the scurrying around trying to stay alive.

I received a copy of the book courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating – 4 of 5 stars

 

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#SPFBO4 Interview with Dave Woolliscroft, author of Kingshold

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Today I’m pleased to welcome to my blog Dave Woolliscroft author of Kingshold (No.1 in the Wildfire Cycle)

Hi Dave, welcome to my blog and thank you so much for agreeing to take part in an interview

Kingshold-Kindle

Firstly, Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and your book??

The short answer, and the one that avoids regurgitating my bio from my website (dpwoolliscroft.com, go take a look), is that I’m a long time reader, first time writer, and I reached the point in my life where I finally thought, “sod it”. I better give writing a good go before I have (more) regrets as I get (even) older.

I’ve read a varied bunch, in genre and out, but it all started something like this. Tolkien to Eddings, to Weiss & Hickman (dragonlance chronicles), to Feist, to Williams, to Pratchett. I had a bit of a fantasy lull for a while in the late nineties, early 2000’s, but then Steven Erikson caught my attention and I became embroiled in the Malazan Books of the Fallen. That led to Glenn Cook and Joe Abercrombie and a great swathe of excellent authors who are producing today (don’t you think we are so lucky to have so many great books being published today?) (Why yes, yes I do)

Anyway, so thirty years of reading has created ideas and stuff sloshing around in my mind that in quiet moments will preoccupy me. Sir Terry Pratchett has been an enormous influence on me (I still go back and reread the City Watch novels), and so one day, at the beginning of 2017, I was reflecting on the absolute chaotic results that democracy delivered in 2016 in the UK, the US and around the world. It occurred to me that it was a shame that Terry never wrote anything about democracy in Discworld. I thought about how democracy almost sounds like a portmanteau of demon and crazy; and so that how’s the initial idea of tiny pink demonic pixies as the means of voting came about. And then I realized I would have to write it if I wanted to read this story.

Demon-crazy, eventually became Kingshold, and the story expanded to envelop the odd idea I’d been kicking around for nearly ten years.

Kingshold is supposed to feel comfortable to readers of fantasy in many ways: there is an ancient wizard; the city has a euro feel to it (though it’s not medieval). But then I wanted to flip some of the tropes on their head. The king and queen are killed in the opening chapter. The ancient wizard has had enough of the endless grind of protecting the kingdom and wants to retire (to somewhere warm probably). The new ruler isn’t going to be some lost child heir to the throne (no coming of age here), instead the ruler is going to be chosen by the people with money. And though I wanted it to feel epic, the entire story takes place over just thirty days and in the one city.

But Kingshold is also really a story about people believing in themselves and trying to live up to their potential. It’s about families, fathers in particular, and communities coming together. All wrapped up in a package with magic, monsters, pirates, demons, assassins and good old fashioned action!

I also think it’s worth mentioning that Kingshold works well as a stand alone read. It has five POV characters so the opening part of the book is laying some of the groundwork for both this story and the rest of the series, but by the time you hit the 40% mark it’s non stop to the end.

Oh, and it has some laughs in it. Because, if you can’t laugh when the world is going to hell in a hand basket when can you laugh?

You mention that your world has a European feel – does that come as a result of being well travelled as well as well read?  Is there any place in particular where you feel you’ve drawn quite heavily upon the culture/characteristics of the place and can you tell me a little bit more about your own process in terms of world building?

I guess I’m fairly well traveled but there are so many places I would still love to go. When I still lived in England I really took advantage of how easy it was to get around to various places in Europe from London. And then, right before we moved to America we had a six week backpacking adventure through Eastern Europe: Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Vienna and Berlin. We had such an amazing time; lots of very cool castles, museums and gorgeous scenery. So travels, and also history books, have definitely acted as a frame of reference as I started world building.

World building for me is a combination of “develop it as it was needed” or “dredge up something from the depths of my brain that I have been noodling on in quiet moments over many years”. As an example of the former, I think I wrote the first four chapters and I already knew that the story wouldn’t really leave Kingshold, but I didn’t know enough about the place. So I stopped writing and drew maps of the city, named the neighborhoods, considered its place in the world and its institutions. And after that I needed to have the larger world setting in place too. I had actually hand drawn the map of the Jeweled Continent about three years ago, just for fun, and so I claimed that for these books, further developing their people, religions and political institutions even though they don’t really appear in Kingshold. But to me it was really important to think broadly early, as I knew that Edland (of which Kingshold is the capital) was an island nation that punched above its weight, largely off the back of it’s ships, both merchant and navy. And that meant that Edland would be connected to its neighbors – globalization isn’t a new thing, it really started with the age of sail.

The evolution of a map

Not all of the locations have that European feel as we move through the series. In fact, one of the things that is of increasing importance is the Wild Continent that is mentioned in the book. You could think of it as the Americas when discovered by the Spanish, with its own very different range of cultures and civilizations.

I have quite a few things figured out when it comes to the world inside or outside the walls of Kingshold but I’ve definitely left myself room to discover new things too (which for me is huge fun). That’s one reason why my next book to be released is a collection of novelettes and shorter stories (called Tales of Kingshold, and officially book 1.5 of the series) that enables me to explore the backstories of some characters, introduce new characters and add more color to the world. Chronologically I think about a third of the stories in that book are from before the events of Kingshold, about a third are concurrent and then a third bridge books 1 and 2. I know this is an odd approach to publishing but it’s something I plan to continue for the rest of the series.

I’d like to know more about your characters. Did you have a particularly strong character in mind when you started writing, how many POVs does your book have, do you find it difficult to make them all individual and do you have a strong favourite. 

Well, Kingshold has five POV characters. Maybe a little ambitious for a debut novel but I love to look at problems and situations from many angles. And I love to read a scene of a prominent character from a different perspective, I think that helps round out your view of them. I also really wanted to make this story diverse (in a good way) with prominent female characters and characters with different backgrounds, so multiple POV was the way for me to do that.

Hopefully, all of the POV characters feel distinct. They all have their own particular challenges and issues that they are dealing with as you meet them. We have some characters with a lack of confidence in themselves and their appreciation of their own self-worth. We have one character who is not living up to the potential that was identified early in his life. And there is definitely a common theme of characters who are struggling with the expectations of family and those who are close to them. Each of the characters have their own arcs and finish the book in quite a different place than they started, and it will be fun to see how the meat grinder of life treats them in the future.

And is it difficult?

Hell, yeah! Revisions, editors and beta readers really helped me with identifying where there were gaps that needed to be addressed to make the characters pop before I released Kingshold in to the world. One thing I was proud of from the feedback of my beta readers is that the most and least liked characters differed between them, and now too with actual reader reviews. I want readers to have the opportunity to latch on to the characters that most appeal to them.

I don’t think I can pick a favorite POV character. There’s a little bit of me in all of them. But of the supporting cast I really enjoyed writing Jyuth, the ancient wizard. He’s a cantankerous, foul-mouthed old guy who loves his food and the country that he helped found. You could think of him as a combination of the Danny Glover character from Lethal Weapon (“I’m too old for this s#!t” – one for the teenagers there) and Bayaz from the First Law trilogy. But unlike Bayaz, Jyuth is secretly a softy underneath, like a tough old teacher you might have had who wants you to learn for yourself but still very much cares.

Thanks for this.  Finally, can I ask a few random questions unrelated to the book?

If you could go back in time to your younger self what advice would you impart?  Embrace and be public with your inner geek! Don’t care what other people think. Be creative. Have confidence in yourself.

Can you tell readers 3 random snippets of information about yourself that isn’t available elsewhere on your social media?

  • My three deceased heroes are Terry Pratchett, Brian Clough and John Peel. Which rather neatly covers my three passions of fantasy, football and music.
  • I watched the sun rise from the top of my university dormitory on my 19th birthday. It was five floors up and required climbing up the outside of the building and through various other people’s dorm rooms to access parts of the roof. Yes, we had been out all night and I did find that I had suffered some injuries in the process after finally going to bed.
  • I love pork products. Pork pie and sausage rolls are the foods I miss most about home.

If you could choose from any superpower what would you go for and why.  Super speed. I could travel to anywhere in the world without having to get on a plane (and I’ve spent a lot of time waiting in airports). I would also be able to make more use of the time I carve out every day for writing.

If you could travel to a fictional world anywhere in the universe where would you go.  Ankh Morpork. This city feels very real to me from Pratchett’s writing. It’s so colorful and diverse, and with a capacity for constant change. I’d try to wangle a meeting with Vetinari and see if Dibbler’s pies really are that bad.

Dave, thank you so much for taking part.  I wish you all the best in the SPFBO.

FYI: Dave can be found at:

Goodread’s : author’s page

Website: http://dpwoolliscroft.com

Twitter: @dpwoolliscroft