Fantasy, mystery, thrillers, horror, historical. . .I write it all, and review it too!

Aug 21, 2012

Dutch homeowners slapped with surprise medieval tax

This story gives the saying "going Dutch" a whole new meaning.

Homeowners living near the 13th century Renwoude castle east of Utrecht in The Netherlands have been given a surprise tax to renovate the castle. Thirty households in the village of Kamerik have been given a tax totaling one million euros ($1.25 million).

The tax, known as the "dertiende penning" or "13th penny" dates back many centuries to when the area around Utrecht was uncultivated. People who wanted to buy land had to pay their feudal overseer a percentage of the purchase price.This tax has been waived for many years, perhaps centuries, but now the noble family that owns Renwoude is enforcing it to pay for renovations.

The residents, needless to say, are fighting the tax.

Aug 17, 2012

Sale on some great historical dark fantasy

My friend and fellow archaeologist Sean McLachlan has cut the prices of his ebooks until the end of August. Yesterday he turned 43 years young and this is his way of celebrating, sort of like a Hobbit birthday where the guests get the presents.

Sean specializes in dark historical fantasy. His Civil War novel A Fine Likeness has been getting great reviews and is now $2.99 instead of $5.99. His short story collection The Night the Nazis Came to Dinner and other dark tales is reduced from $2.99 to $.99. Now's the time to pick up these books, and don't forget the sale that's on from yours truly!

A quick question to my fellow writers out there. I'm considering getting a Goodreads Author account. Is it worth it?

Aug 15, 2012

My new fantasy novel "At the Gates" is out now!

My latest fantasy novel, At the Gates, has just been released in electronic edition. It's Book Two in the Timeless Empire series and continues the story of a ragged band of commoners swept up in a war between magic and alchemy. While the regular price is $4.99, for a limited time I'm selling it for $2.99. A blurb is below:

In the thirtieth year of my life, I find I am a soldier in two armies about to go to war with each other, and already at war with a third.

We march across an endless plain, we soldiers of the Baron, loyal human subjects of the Dragonkin and their Timeless Empire. Loyal, I say, but only in name. For within that great army intent on crushing the rebellious cities of Haadsted and Ryksierde marches another army, a secret army, the army to which I owe my true allegiance.

In celebration of its release, I've temporarily dropped the price of Book One, Hard Winter, down to 99 cents from $4.99. In case you missed it, a blurb for that one is below:

His past has been erased, his future is uncertain, but he knows one thing—in the coming revolution he must choose which friend to support and which to betray.

The Dragonkin have ruled the human race for centuries, but now the eastern territories have broken away and a blight has left thousands of humans destitute. Assassinations and riots plague the cities.

While the empire’s future is in peril, one man struggles to reclaim his past. Recorro lost his wife to the Gatherers, shadowy beings that prowl the streets on moonless nights. Those who witness their passing are forever changed. Recorro can remember nothing about his wife beyond the fact that she existed.

Aimless and struggling with despair, Recorro joins the army gathering to crush the rebels. What he discovers there may answer all his questions, and topple the empire he swore to uphold.

So why not pick up both today for only $3.98, giving you 125,000 words of original fantasy for the same price as one of those overly sugared Starbucks "coffees"? It's the healthy choice!

Aug 13, 2012

Medieval Mondays: Qasr Kharana castle, Jordan

I was blanking on what to write about for this week's Medieval Mondays post until I saw this photo as the image of the day on Wikimedia Commons. It shows the desert castle of Qasr Kharana in Jordan.

This is one of the oldest Arab castles in the Middle East, having been built around 710, according to an inscription in one of the rooms. As any student of the Middle Ages knows, the Crusaders were impressed by Middle Eastern castles and were inspired to make thier own in Europe. There had been castles in Europe before the Crusades of course, but most were crude forts like the Motte and Bailey castles.

Qasr Kharana may be better called a fortified place rather than a castle. Some say it may have been a caravanserai or the stronghold of a local ruler. Nobody knows for sure.

The plan is simple: a square 115 feet to a side with a series of small round projecting towers. Some sixty rooms in two stories look onto an interior courtyard. This layout is similar to the typical caravanserai but Qasr Kharana isn't on any known early medieval trade route. On the other hand, many wealthy homes also had this layout.

Some researchers suggest that Qasr Kharana was only inhabited on a temporary basis. They point to the small cistern and the absence of a bath (de rigueur for wealhty medieval Arabs) as proof that it wasn't inhabited year-round. It may have been a governor's temporary abode while meeting with and collecting tribute from the Bedouin.

Aug 8, 2012

My next fantasy novel coming soon!

Here's the cover for At the Gates, the next in the Timeless Empire series. It picks up where Hard Winter leaves off and continues Recorro's quest to learn his past while struggling with the dangers of the present. Below is a blurb. I'd love to get some feedback on this blurb before I upload it late this week or early next, so please tell me what you think in the comments section!

In the thirtieth year of my life, I found myself a soldier in two armies about to go to war with each other, and already at war with a third.

We marched across an endless plain, we soldiers of the Baron, loyal human subjects of the Dragonkin and their Timeless Empire. Loyal, I say, but only in name. For within that great army intent on crushing the rebellious cities of Haadsted and Ryksierde marched another army, a secret army, the army to which I owed my true loyalty.

Aug 6, 2012

Medieval Mondays: Fuddling cups and puzzle jugs

We haven't changed all that much. Many people like to drink, and those who do like to play drinking games. Our ancestors seemed to enjoy drinking games that got them to spill booze all over themselves.

This is a fuddling cup. These cups are all connected with tubes and holes designed in a clever way that there's only one angle you can pour it into your mouth without it spilling out another part and getting all over you.

Sounds fun, doesn't it? Especially in the days before washing machines. There was no hiding the fact that you were at the pub when you got home!

Fuddling cups were known in the eighteenth century and perhaps date before then. Another variant is the puzzle jug. It looks like a normal jug with several holes in the neck. Like with the fuddling cup you have to drink from it without spilling.

The trick is that the fluid goes through a ceramic tube leading from the bottom to the spout past several holes. You have to plug those holes with your fingers in order to get a clean drink.

Many puzzle jugs, like this white one from Liverpool, bears the poem, "Here Gentlemen come try your skill,
I'll hold a wager if you will,
That you don't drink this liquor all,
Without you spill and let some fall."

Puzzle jugs seem to be later than fuddling cups, dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. I haven't found any serious studies of these cool items from the past, though, so this may not be correct.

These contraptions would fit well into one of my fantasy tales somewhere. . .

Aug 1, 2012

Christianity reached Vikings earlier than previously thought

A new excavation is pushing back the date for the introduction of Christianity among the Vikings.

Archaeologists working at Ribe Cathedral in Denmark have found Christian burials from the mid ninth century in the graveyard. They all faced east and had no grave goods in keeping with Christian tradition. Viking burials almost always included grave goods and generally did not face east.

Traditional history says that the Vikings in the area were converted after King Harold Blutooth was baptized in 963. On his famous Jellinge Runestone, shown here, the king boasted that he "made the Danes Christians”. Some historians have contended that he was only making official a slow process of conversion that had started long before. These graves seem to confirm that, and bring up the question of whether there's the foundations of an older church underneath the cathedral at Ribe.

Sorry for my recent silence, but I've been busyworking on the latest book in the Timeless Empire series. I've even put a word counter on the sidebar to keep me motivated! Book One, Hard Winter, is already available, and Book Two, At the Gates, is being prepared for publication. It should be availabe in the next two weeks.

Photo courtesy Sven Rosborn.