My review of Richard Blake’s ‘Ghosts of Athens’: Inflected into an indifferent world

The complex beauty of Richard Blake’s writing is the fine line the author treads between classicism and barbarism. On the one hand, our hero Aelric demurs with his eyebrow at former students for using impersonal Latin verbs in a personal way, and on the other hand, he stabs crass lumpen Anglo-Saxon peasants in the eye with rusting six-inch knives for daring to deliver him a discourtesy. It’s all done in the best possible taste, of course, in a cornucopia of smells, tastes, sounds, and verbal effluence which delights both the cerebrum’s lobus frontalis and the brain stem’s medulla oblongata, and all ambrosic points in-between. This blends in well with the world that Aelric finds himself belched into, which teeters between the differing Roman empires of Caesar and Charlemagne. Our hero drowns in a Varangian smorgasbord of complex Byzantine politics blended into the universal and basal political corruption clearly visible around us currently, in our failed centrally-planned world, in which paper-money currencies, socially-desirable orthodoxies, and politically-correct holy cows are crashing down in a manner highly reminiscent of the enslaving inflationary mess that the original Roman Empire descended into, in its final spasmodic death throes. This is perhaps best summed up by my favourite line in ‘Ghosts of Athens’: “I’ll grant you that it’s hard, in most settled places, to tell the difference between tax-collectors and bandits.” On a less intellectual level, ‘Ghosts of Athens’ is simply a superb yarn of an irascible intelligent man dealing with a blindingly confused world, similar but different to the yarns of Cornwell’s Lieutenant Sharpe, O’Brian’s Captain Maturin, or even Pratchett’s Wizzard Rincewind, the egregious professor of cruel and unusual geography. Aelric is an egregious professor of the cruel and unusual human soul, and I highly recommend the contemplation of his latest inexcusable adventure in ‘Ghosts of Athens’.


Book Beta draft: 31,500 word milestone achieved

Another good productive week, in the glorious sunshine of a four-day English summer, as we sailed through the next drafting milestone.

Book Alpha, ‘Sword of Marathon’, is still going through some niggling formatting checks, but we’re almost there with its publication.

Next word check, at 42,000 words, which has a nice ring about it.

Book Beta, first draft: 21,000 threshold crossed

At 21,837 words, this morning, we crossed the 21,000 word milestone in the first draft, 20% of my way into the overall 105,000 word target (approximately the number of words in the first novel). That really will be a rough target, with perhaps a larger volume than the Book Alpha, as Luke, it seems, is bent on making this a wider-ranging journey than I had initially imagined, though it’s interesting following him.

Next word-count check at 31,500 words, in perhaps a couple of weeks.

It would seem Mrs England has one or two things for me to do, before then, in the interfering place known as the real world.

10,500 words done on Book Beta first draft

While very close to pressing the ‘Accept Proof’ button on Sword of Marathon, or Book Alpha, I’m now underway with Book Beta; I’ve just crossed the magical 10,000 words threshold in the first draft.

Book Alpha, required three initial drafts, then a revision, then a polish, and is now going through the final stages of a proofing polish, so that’s about six drafts in all, with the most work being done on the first draft. Book Alpha also turned out to contain approximately 105,000 words, so I’m setting all my drafting milestones to be at 10% of that, and I’ve just hit that first milestone, though I suspect the final publication will be longer. I’m hoping to hit 21,000 words, in Book Beta’s first draft, in two more weeks. I’ll write a post when I hit that.

Alas, I’m unable to reveal a working title for Book Beta yet, as Mrs England will kill me if I do, but please do expect it to contain – at the very least – scenes from Thermopylae and Salamis. There may be other books later in the series, which fill in more of the missing years between Marathon and Thermopylae, but for the second book in the series, I thought it would be good if we at least found out about Luke’s involvement in that particular encounter with the Persians.

Currently, he’s footling about in Arabia, and I’ve no idea how he’s going to get from there to the hot gates. However, I am confident that he will find a way.

Right, better get back to that first draft to find out what he’s up to.

When is a waist, a waste?

Alas, in the allegedly final proof run, an instance of ‘waste’ has been discovered, where ‘waist’ was desired. So far, it’s the only one, but it does mean we have to go around the review cycle one more time. I bet J.K.Rowling has people to do this kind of thing for her now! 🙂

Into final proofing (we hope)

Perhaps the greatest video there has ever been. Yes, we’re in the (hopefully) final proof check. The cover’s done, the barcodes are added, and in the last interior review, I found about three commas and semi-colons, which I tossed and turned about. Is writing novels painful? You betcha. But hopefully this (last?) interior proof review will fail to reveal a single comma out of place. Here’s that video:

Cover of ‘Sword of Marathon’ done

Working Cover of ‘Sword of Marathon’

Finished fiddling with the cover, today, as above. I like it. I would buy this book on the cover alone. If you can’t read it, the back cover text says:

“Luke, a Gothic prince of Angland and a shaman’s pupil, sets out to prove himself worthy of kingship by finding traders for his people’s amber jewels. His journey leads him south through treacherous waters and murderous barbarians. With younger brother Hal at his side, and trust in his sword, Luke finds a new and unexpected destiny.

In Greece, Luke finds manhood too, with the voluptuous and beautiful Agariste. She reveals a rotten secret at the heart of Athens, which draws the brothers into a vicious war against the Persian Empire. King Darius the Great, with his vast Achaemenid fleets and legions, is bent on destroying the Ionian city of Eretria, and then Athens, along with its fledgling democracy and persistent refusal to bow to tyranny.

As leader of the toughest seafaring mercenaries in Greece, Luke gathers vital intelligence for the General of Athens and rescues the future mother of Herodotus, the world’s first historian. Luke’s quest also reveals Misia, an alluring young Carian princess, who betrays him, yet captures his heart.

Confronted with superior military force on the plain of Marathon, Luke, Hal, and the Greeks engage the Persian army in bloody combat, in one of the most important and epic battles of all time. Its outcome will decide the future of the entire world for decades and millennia to come. But will it decide the fate of Luke and Misia?”

That would definitely make me want to buy this book! 🙂