Book Review: North of Need

Book: North of Need

Author: Laura Kaye

Status: Did Not Finish (DNF)

NorthofNeed

I normally wouldn’t post this, but as Ms. Kaye is already a NYT bestselling author, I’m not really hurting her any by not liking a book. I found the book from a very popular romance blog, and they liked it, so it could just be me that didn’t care for it.

I was looking for a nice Christmas romance to distract me from a rough patch at work. I so wanted to love this book as the premise sounded cool. I got to the 40% mark on my Kindle and decided I was done.

The premise is cool, but the author didn’t do it justice.

I figured it would be worth discussing what made me stop reading. Perhaps it won’t bother you, and you’ll love the book.

There were really three things that made me stop:

1.  Unrealistic Characters – The characters, frankly, were unrealistic. The heroine was a widow, and her grief was real and raw. I bought that. At no point did I really buy her connection to the hero. This is a romance novel, and that’s a must for me.

I gotta tell you, the heroine got over her fear and terror of a strange man far too quickly.  The author needed to work for this and didn’t. Seriously, if I give a stranger sanctuary in my house from a snow storm, then find him sleeping on my bedroom floor, holding my hand when I wake up, my response is not going to be to find it comforting.

The hero was already in love with the heroine before they met. Sure, the author has reasons for this, but I’d way have rather he fell in love with her on his own. Especially as I found those reasons a little creepy.

 

2. Where’s the Plot? – At the 40% point, there is absolutely no reason for the characters not to be together. The author has already given away all of the cool mystery surrounding the plot. Which was cool, but the execution of explaining it to us the reader was awful. Rather than dumping it on our laps through exposition, this could’ve been unfolded slowly through the story, used to add tension and drama as the characters come together.

Instead, we’re literally told why the hero loves her and why he agreed to this “mission”. We know the heroine lusts for the hero. Only thing keeping them apart is maybe her grief for her lost husband, but as we get direct permission from the great beyond by the 40% mark that the dead husband is okay with it, things seem resolved to me.

 

3. Weak Writing – After unbelievable characters and a missing plot, the prose itself follows suit. We have abrupt transitions, no real scene setting, and no real pacing. Not surprising, I suppose, as there isn’t much of plot.

 

All in, the only thing that might recommend this book is if you are actually a widow or widower. Perhaps then things will mean more to you. While the story is definitely a tear-jerker around the heroine being widowed and all she’s going through, I just can’t get through the rest of it to finish. As far as I’m concerned, we already have a happily-ever-after at the 40% mark, and that saves me from having to read the rest of it.

Craving Christmas Lights

I normally love Christmas lights, but this year, I am absolutely craving them.

It’s been a hectic month with a lot of trials. Not as bad as last year, but I feel like getting sucker punched over the holidays is almost a tradition.

Still, I love the lights. The bright colors. The beautiful, or sometime garish, displays.

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Even the snow co-operated with just a dusting.

I’m not sure why I like them so much. Perhaps it’s the bit of nostalgia from my childhood. Driving around and looking at lights was one of the few things we did as a family that involved very little fighting.

Maybe it’s the time of the year. A little light goes a long way when the is sun winning at a game of hide-and-seek.

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This is very much my life for most of the winter.

I’d love to say it’s the holiday season itself, but as a parent, I have found the holidays a lot more stressful.

Whatever it is, seeing the lights on my way home from work makes me smile after a long day. I even spontaneously burst into Christmas carols a few times this year. Good thing I was alone to save any potential passenger the pain of my horribly off-key singing. Tone-deafness runs in my family.

Reminds me that we really should do more to decorate for the holidays.

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Pretty and shiny.

It was fun putting up the tree this year, and the kids loved it, but the lone angel in the front yard looks pretty sad. My husband doesn’t really care to decorate, but he humors me.

Or, I can avoid the stress and just enjoy other people’s decorations. Perhaps I’ll check the after Christmas sales and think about it next year.

But if you are decorating, know that at least one person out here appreciates your efforts. And thank you.

 

A Post-Apocalyptic Plague Becomes Real

Many of us have watched the Walking Dead or read Stephen King’s The Stand.  But in Medieval Europe, a post-apocalyptic plague actually become real, and it had a dramatic impact on almost every aspect of life.

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Dance Macabre images became very popular in Medieval European art

We’ve discussed some of the myths around Medieval Europe, but those do not extend to the Black Plague. As a matter-of-fact, the impact of this plague tends to be frequently understated.

The Black Death or Bubonic Plague killed somewhere between 75 and 200 million people, or between 30%-60% of Europe’s total population. The plague peaked for four years in the 1300’s. During these four years, in some areas, such as Italy, the South of France, and Spain, it’s thought the death toll reached as high as 75%-80% of the total population.

If you put that into context, it means out of a family of five, one person would bury the rest of their family members.

There are stories of entire villages being wiped out, and years later, visitors finding cattle roaming free.

Apocalyptic, indeed.

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Not quite like this, but I imagine it was close.

This also happened fast. From the time a victim was infected until the time they died was usually no more than three to four days.

Death was awful as lymph-nodes swelled from the disease then burst.

There were many long-term consequences of this Plague that paved the way to the societies we have today.

  • Drastic Reduction in Labor – Labor went from being plentiful to being in very short supply. Landowners were suddenly forced to pay wages and make working conditions better. Serfdom was was all put abolished and feudalism crumbles. Wages paid to artisans rose, and with landowners becoming less wealthy as they had to share with workers, those who provided services become more wealthy. This offered a new fluidity in a previously very hierarchical society.

Decades later, when lords tried to revoke the improved conditions, there were peasant revolts that forced the lords to maintain the better conditions and pay.

 

  • Catholic Church Lost Some of It’s Hold – The Protestant Reformation stated in 1517 AD, approximately 150 years after the worst bout of Black Plague. The loss of power, however, is believed to have already started during the Black Plague. Distrust in God and the Catholic Church, which already in poor standing due to recent Papal scandals, grew as people realized the Church could do nothing to stop the disease or help their family.
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Beautiful, but it doesn’t feed people or save them from the Black Death.

 

  • Anti-Semitism Rises – Jewish populations became scapegoats, particularly as they suffered less from the Black Plague. We now believe this is because of better hygiene, but at the time, people thought they were poisoning Christian’s water. Many would flee east to Poland and Russia.

 

All in, if you want to find a very real account of what happens in the Walking Dead, take a look at Europe during the Black Plague. The accounts are gruesome and horrifying. I actually stopped reading them because my heart ached for those people, and there is literally nothing I can do for them.

 

How about you? Ever watched the Walking Dead or read The Stand? Could you imagine if we lost half our population today? Any other real-world examples of an apocalypse?

Change Ahead

After blogging three times a week, every week, for almost two years now, there is some change coming. Nothing too drastic, I promise. And hopefully, nothing as messy as switching servers.

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Should’ve known the server change was going to go about as well as finding a happy ending in Game of Thrones.

I’ve been reading up on marketing and branding, learning what I can without taking too much time from the writing itself. It’s a whole new world to me as I’ve long been buried in the hard numbers of a corporate desk jockey.

I like numbers. They are reasonable. Predictable. And after spending a little time with them, they make sense. I don’t feel the same way about marketing. At least, not yet.

In an attempt to make to at least try what the “experts” recommend, I will attempt those changes we talked about.

What are they? Well, the first thing you’ll notice in the new year is that I am going down to posting twice a week. Why? Because it gives me more time for better content, and, frankly, the numbers say not too many folks stop by for my Friday post. I get that. Especially in the summer months when there are fun things to do. Even errands are better in the summer.

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Real footage of winter by me.

I’m learning as I go here, and one thing parenthood has taught me is that books, even by “experts”, can be wrong. So very, very wrong. And contradictory.

So, if I royally mess this up. Please tell me.

If there’s something you miss, please tell me.

If there’s something you never want to see again, say man eating spiders, *eyes Jason over at Athereal Engineer* please tell me that as well.

If there’s something you’d like to see more of, please tell me. Unless, of course, that’s spiders.

 

 

 

 

Why Did One of the Greatest Armies Wear Skirts?

The Romans were one of the greatest military forces in human history. Their armies conquered much of their known world, yet, as my daughter pointed out to me as I was researching them, they wear skirts.

Well, not exactly skirts. *smiles* I would never call them a skirt in the same way I’d never call a kilt a skirt. I am far too afraid of the very large and well-armed men wearing them.

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You can see where my daughter is coming from on the skirt.

Not the most accurate image, I know, but I take what Pixabay has.

The point is, most of us are familiar with what Roman armor looked like. If not, check out some historically accurate re-enactment sites or even military toy collector sites.

We notice the metal chest piece, helmet, and even shin-guards. So, why no metal cuisses (thigh armor)? Why the “skirt”.

As with most things in Rome, there were some very good reasons for it.

Why Roman Soldiers Wore “Skirts”

  • Marching – They were easy to march in. They were light-weight and didn’t impede a soldier’s legs. This was a far-flung empire, and they needed to move troops around quickly and efficiently.

 

  • Reasonable Protection for the Price – The “skirts” are actually cingulum. They are made of strips of leather, often set with metal discs. They provide mobile, flexible armor that offered reasonable protection and wasn’t terribly expensive to produce. The Romans had a large army. Some estimate over 20,000 infantrymen at the height of the empire. Equipping them with the best money could buy wasn’t always an option, but the Romans still wanted to win wars.

 

  • Didn’t Overheat – The more armor you put on a soldier, the more you had to contend with them over-heating.

 

  • Pants Were for Barbarians – Romans wore togas and tunics. Barbarians wore pants. Given our modern stance, it may seem strange, but there was no real point to pants in the warmer Mediterean climate. Pants were also more difficult and more expensive to make, so why bother adopting the “inferior” wear of a “barbaric” culture?

 

I found this interesting, and I may or may not adopt some of this to the Tamryn army. Tunics and trousers are the more popular form of dress in the world, with surcoats for the wealthy.  Wizards tend to wear robes.

And the Knights of Valor? They’re still in shining armor.

 

 

 

 

The Truth about Medieval Swords

Okay, A.S. Akkalon and Thomas Weaver busted me. I have been researching many things in the Middle Ages and the Roman era. I’ve studied a lot about politics and daily life. One thing I did not think to question was my belief in large, heavy swords being the norm for knights.

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She’s got nothing on any paladin I’ve ever played. And I’ve played a lot of them.

I am going to blame it on years and years of D&D, video games, and some bad information from the History Channel. I stupidly thought these were researched. I know. Stop laughing.

Here is the truth.

The weapons of the Middle Ages were light, strong, and well-designed. They were agile weapons designed to kill, and they did a fine job of it. They were not clumsy or heavy. They were not “clubs with edges”.

According to the Wallace Collection Museum in London that has dozens of actual swords from the Middle Ages, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any that weight more than four pounds. Most weigh less than three.

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Perhaps a bit more accurate. Picture from Pixabay.

Yeah. Three pounds.

Even the large “hand-and-a-half” swords rarely weighed more than 4.5 pounds.

All of these swords would be easily handled by a man who’d been training with them since the age of seven.

Perhaps popular media (and my RPGs) were thinking of special “parade” swords when they came up their weights. However, they only weighed up to eight or nine pounds, not the forty you regularly see in popular culture (or on the History Channel). Even so, you’d really have to be stretching to make this mistake. These swords were show pieces, not fighting weapons. Their blunt edges should bring home that point.

This idea is perhaps older than Hollywood. Hey, misinformation isn’t just for TV and movies.

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Land of more misinformation than even the Mythbusters can bust.

In a fencing booklet from 1746, the author already talked about how heavy and unwieldy earlier swords were, stating they were designed basically for brute force. Perhaps the author felt that way as he was used to using a foil instead of a sword, but I’m going to guess a foil isn’t nearly as deadly on a battlefield or more soldiers would’ve used them.

In the 1870s, a historian describes earlier weapons as ponderous and requiring both hands. Getting back to the Victorian hubris Thomas Weaver spoke of where the Victorians assumed all things that came before them must be inferior.

There are other example, but the one thing we have to remember is that much of this was documented by people who were not swordsmen or otherwise trained in battle. Perhaps a man who has survived a half-dozen battles will find a certain sword light, well-balanced and agile when the scholar who has never left his library will find it heavy and unwieldy compared to his quill.

When I step back and look at this logically, of course it makes sense that knights and soldiers of the Middle Ages had finely-crafted blades that were light, sturdy and agile. War tends to bring about inventiveness as nothing drives innovation like survival.

I admit my ignorance on this, but I’ve learned and will go back and rewrite accordingly. Reminds me again to question everything.

How about you? Ever believe something you later learned was Hollywood magic? Any other common misconceptions held by the general public that could make me go back and rewrite?

 

Short Story: Origins

One of my beta readers said that if I was going to write several of my novels in a fantasy empire, she wanted me to post some short stories about the origin and back story of the empire. She was curious, but didn’t want to bog down the books. And so…

 

Origins

Leonora stepped off the boat and wrinkled her nose. The smell of sewage, animal, and sweat assaulted her as the sun warmed her neck and shoulders. Several squires were coaxing skittish horses down the ramshackle docks, and a few harried knights were overseeing the transfer of provisions. They didn’t deserve to die. None of them did, even if her father disagreed.

Unfurling her parasol, she cast a small spell to keep her dress from getting soiled and picked her way through the muck.

A young knight with a shock of blonde hair and smooth face hurried over to her, and realizing who she was, took a step back. “Your…ladyship?”

“Good enough.” She snapped her parasol closed. Few knew how to address the bastard daughter of the king.

“This is no place for a lady, ma’am.”

“Unfortunate I came all the way across the sea then. I’m looking for Knight-Lord Dracasan.”

Confusion puckered the young knight’s face, but he led her to a large drab tent. There was nothing to knock on, so the boy cleared his throat. “Knight-Lord-”

Leonora pushed past him into the tent. Cato Dracasan sat with his elbows balanced on his knees, a lock of dark hair curling over his forehead as he pressed his hands together and tapped them against his chin. With a day-old beard and unkempt hair, he looked nothing like the refined gentleman that had graced the ballrooms of Stardale a few months ago. Here, he looked like the brooding warrior he was.

Cato glanced up at her, and he narrowed his eyes but didn’t stand. “What in the seven hells are you doing here?”

The young knight scurried away as Leonora met the Knight-Lord’s glare. “What a lovely greeting. It’s good to see you as well, Knight-Lord Dracasan.”

Cato pushed out of his chair, filling the tent and making her want to step back. But she knew better than to retreat from a predator.

“Get on the ship andgo back home. There’s nothing for you here.”

She ignored the sting in his words and twirled her parasol. “There’s nothing for me there, either. But I have something you want. Something King Orin prays you don’t get.”

Cato raised a dark brow. “I think you made it quite clear that was something I was never going to get.”

“Had I said anything else, my step-mother would’ve had us both killed.”

“Might be better than the slow death here.”

Unscrewing the end of her parasol, she tipped it upward and slid out a rolled piece of paper. She unrolled it and revealed a detailed map of the landing site and surrounding areas.

Cato’s eyes widened as he stared at the map. “Where did you get this?”

“From my father. Of course, he doesn’t know I made a copy of it. Or that I brought it to you.”

Cato studied the document. “So he knew he was sending us to our deaths.”

“Of course he did. Question is what are you going to do about it?”

More than Medieval Europe and Vikings

There is more to history than Medieval Europe and Vikings.

Bizarre, I know, but true.

I study history to get ideas for how to create a world that has at least a streak of realism. I mean, there will be dragons, but there’s still a civilization that supports them.

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Yes, there will still be knights.

While lots of stories use a bland version of Medieval Europe as their basis, my studies have taken me elsewhere. Sure, I am influenced by Regency and Victorian England. I read historical romance. This is almost a given.

While English history has influenced me, one of my favorite areas of study to create civilizations is ancient Rome.  And no, I’m not talking about the Rome Hollywood feeds us. I’ve decided almost nothing that we see on a screen, small or large, is real. It’s better to accept that. Really.

Here are three interesting things about Rome:

 

They Were Wealthy Enough to Avoid Expensive Sporting Events

Gladiators really existed. Sure, Hollywood told you that, but they didn’t really fight to the death. These were highly skilled combatants who were valued for their ability to entertain, and paid very well to do it. Much like our modern day sports stars. There were the occasional fights to the death, but these were usually prisoners sentenced to die.

Colosseum

What Hollywood didn’t tell you was that Romans really, really liked chariot races. Kinda like the ancient version of NASCAR. The Colosseum that hosted gladiators could hold 50,000 people. Yeah, 50,000. The Circus Maximus where the chariot races were held? That contained space for 250,000. One of the greatest chariot racers in all of Rome was Gaius Appuleius Diocles, and he amassed a fortune worth $15 billion.

 

Massive, Long-Lived Empire

Rome was a true empire. It spanned from Spain and Portugal, across northern Africa, and up to modern day Scotland. It also included parts of Germany, southern Europe, over to the boarders of Iran and Iraq. There is some evidence it expanded farther, and included the parts of the Arabian peninsula and delved further into Asia.

A large, expansive empire that managed to last almost a thousand years. The Republic lasted just over 500 years when the Senate granted Octavian the title Augustus. This began the Imperial age, which depending on who you ask, lasted approximately another 500 years.

 

Technological Marvels

Rome was a massive empire that reached technological pinnacles we can’t yet replicate. There are concrete dams in Spain still standing two-thousand years after they were built. They can’t get the concrete on the freeway I drive to work on to last more than twenty-years.

The vast distances required a way to communicate to keep the empire together. The Romans became famous for their roads. Wherever Rome went, the road system followed. These roads were paved, lightly arched so water drained off of them, and were flanked by footpaths, horse trails, and drainage ditches. The roads were built along accurately surveyed courses, and some were cut through hills, or constructed over rivers and ravines on bridgework. Sections over marshy ground would be supported on rafted or piled foundations.

As you can tell, they didn’t mess around.

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Not messing around is why some Roman roads are still is use some 2,000 years later.

The Romans took their roads seriously. Very seriously. They were very well built, and many were still used as main thoroughfares until they were paved over for modern cars. These roads had to be spectacular. It’s how the Romans transported troops. Supplies. And supported a state-funded courier system, allowing messages to make it across great distances.

 

As history so often does, it reminds us that people have been smart for a really long time. And it reminds us again that the feudal system is not all of European history.

 

How about you? Ever discover some interesting bit of history that changed your perception of the past? Or perhaps showed you how “creative” Hollywood can be with history? Maybe something interesting that you think I especially cool?

Buried

I have been absolutely buried with work and family issues these last few weeks.

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I apologize if I haven’t been as responsive lately, but it’s not you. It’s me.

Hoping things will get better shortly, and I will get some breathing back!

Why I Can’t Wait for Self-Driving Cars

I am very excited for self-driving cars. I know, many people are leery. I, too, have read Charles Stross and understand that they can be hacked and used as murder weapons. At this point in time, what can’t be hacked? But I digress.

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About like this, I suspect.

Even with Stross’s visions of mayhem running through my head, I hope self-driving cars get here sooner than later.

My Top Reasons for Wanting Self-Driving Cars

 

  •  Someone Else is the Kids’ Chauffeur – I know, my oldest child is only in kindergarten, and I am already tired of either me or my husband having to cart her all over the place. Dance lessons. Gymnastics. Another birthday party. I can’t believe how much of my life this consumes, and I can’t listen to audio books while she’s in the car. My hope is they can design the cars to recognize faces, let the child into the vehicle, then take them where they are going. Maybe I’m hoping too much, but a parent can dream
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It’s only cute until the 50th time you’ve sat through it.
  • Lower Cost – If we had self-driving cars, I believe it will only be a matter of time before we’re all scheduling a majority of our trips with a less-rapey version of Uber. While we may still need one car, our second car is used exclusively for my husband’s commute. We could simply schedule that with a self-driving car. One less car is a big deal to the average family when the cost of a new car is almost $34,000. Cars are the second most expensive thing we own after a house.
  • Traffic Rules – I am tired of people not choosing to stop for a stop sign, running red lights, and otherwise not obeying traffic rules. You know who you are red pickup truck that didn’t decide to yield to oncoming traffic. *glares* If we’re all in self-driving cars, this goes away.

 

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Not sure how much more obvious we can make the sign.

 

  • More Free Time – While my commute is usually less than fifteen minutes each way, my husband has a much longer commute as do a lot of people I know. So while it might not buy me time back a lot of time, it will get my husband more time.
  • No More Distracted Drivers – Drivers can now text or whatever the heck they’re doing on their phones that caused them to be not paying attention to traffic and forcing me to honk at them when they run a stop sign.

I know there are a lot of safety hurdles to self-driving cars, but I’m really looking forward to them. I am hoping the benefits outweigh the costs.

How about you? Like the idea of self-driving cars? Hate it? Why?