Review: The Exercise of Vital Powers by Ian Gregoire

Some Lessons Must Be Learned The Hard Way 

Since its inception, The Order has been dedicated to the prevention of the misuse and abuse of magic. For seven decades this mandate has guaranteed peace and stability throughout The Nine Kingdoms. But a potential threat to the peace has emerged, and its source is much closer to home than the leadership of The Order may realise. 

Arrogant, manipulative, confrontational and angry. Undesirable qualities in a person at the best of times, but more so in a young woman born with the power to bring kingdoms to their knees. Kayden Jayta, precocious apprentice of The Order, is all these things and more, yet wholly unwilling to acknowledge and rectify her many troubling traits. 

Unbeknown to anyone, Kayden’s resolute determination to join the ranks of The Order is born of a secret that puts her priorities at odds with the precepts of the organisation, setting her inexorably on a collision course with the most powerful institution in The Nine Kingdoms. 

If Kayden is to be dissuaded from walking the path she has chosen, averting tragic consequences in the process, two unanswered questions must be answered: What is the dark secret guiding Kayden’s actions? And, why has a legendary figure within The Order, with a secret of her own, taken undue interest in Kayden’s future? 

4 of 5 stars

An enthralling journey of inner discovery, I found this to be an enjoyable book, entertaining and richly developed. This world has three different kinds of magical energy, each accessible in discrete ways. The Order teaches only one of the three types of magic, and we follow a critical time in the life of one of its students.

The main point of view character is a young woman, Kayden Jayta, who is studying to be inducted into The Order. These studies take 10 years, but Kayden is advancing faster than anyone, and has earned the attention of Fay Annis, the campus administrator, though not necessarily in a good way. When Kayden completes a task no student has succeeded at before, Annis must act on her suspicions and bring Kayden to meet her superior.

The school is more like a college, so don't go in expecting Harry Potter. These are older students and their interactions reflect such. Kayden's accelerated advancement is a source for much rumor and speculation, and she has trouble getting along with just about everyone on campus. She's quite arrogant about her skills and talent. In the opening chapters of the book, she's so conceited it's hard to relate to her. She treats everyone with derision and rebuffs any attempts at friendship.

Fay Annis is also a point of view character, and through her chapters we see some of her concerns and intentions in her plans for Kayden. At times such insight is a relief, at other times it brings ominous foreshadowing.

The further you read, the more you learn about Kayden and why she acts the way she does. These revelations give her character much more depth.

The world has many different countries and complex political history, which is detailed through instructional conversations. I appreciated some amount of it, but at times I didn't see how it pertained to the story. While it does add to the academic tone, I hope some of those politics and conflicts will tie in to future books.

Once the main conflicts are over, there's a fairly long wind-down period before the book concludes. This would definitely suit readers who want stories that don't end abruptly. I recommend it for those who enjoy stories of magic academies, practitioners, exploring emotional trauma and spiritual paths.

You can find it here on Amazon or here on Goodreads.

Interview with Author Scott Kaelen

Last month I reviewed The Blighted City, a semi-finalist in SPFBO4, and author Scott Kaelen shared with us the cover design process for this debut novel. Today I'm pleased to bring you an interview with him, to delve a bit deeper into his creativity and writing techniques. 

What inspired your world building process?
I started with the geography of an entire continent, but allowing for changes as stories evolved. I sketched a map of the continent of Sosarra, added mountain ranges, lakes, a land-locked sea, forests, and various types of coastal area. I then placed cities in the sorts of places they were most likely to be, based on the growth and the flow of society over the ages. This gave me a template to work with. I broke the continent into lands based on topographical boundaries, named each area, each mountain range, city, etc., and figured out what sort of society would exist in each one. Some, like Midhallow, were given a solid history, and the continent in general was painted with a shared history that affected all of the lands, i.e. in Western Sosarra, the land of Vorinsia conquered its neighbors to the south – Sardaya and Khalevali, and merged the three together to form the Vorinsian Arkh. Some of this was peripherally mentioned in The Blighted City, but will be made much more tangible in the next novel because the action will spread from Himaera (the land in which all of The Blighted City takes place) across into the continental mainland to Vorinsia. The snowy northern land of Thylea is where a new main character will begin, and the city of Midhallow will also be visited and play an important role. All of this really only touches the surface of the world-building that’s grown over the last several years for the world of Verragos, and I would say that the sheer depth of world-building done by authors such as Tolkien, Feist, Weis & Hickman, and many other excellent epic fantasy writers, is what inspired me the most in my world-building process. Creating a world gives you a pseudo-god-like power, and, what started off as an unnamed island grew into a richly-detailed world which I fell in love with and am looking forward to sharing more of with readers in future books of the Fractured Tapestry series.

Who are you writing for and why?
I suppose I’m writing primarily for myself, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t care what my readers think; of course I do. Any constructive criticism which The Blighted City may receive (it is a debut novel, after all) will be considered during the creation of the next novel, and so on. Sales do matter, and receiving book reviews is also a huge deal and far from easy to obtain from readers. The bottom line, I suppose, is that I’m writing to release the stories inside me which need to come out, and for as many fantasy lovers as I could possibly hope to turn into fans. I’m acutely aware that we can’t please everyone, so I suppose the No.1 person who benefits from my writing is me. It’s a catharsis. And why let such a rich world like Verragos go to waste?

What do you do to recharge your creative energy? 
If I get stuck in a creative rut, I try to pay more attention to the things that are most likely to inspire me. The real world is a good start, but also other authors’ writing styles, movies, TV shows, computer games. The dialogue in the best-written TV shows is often more of an influence than the dialogue in books. In the dialogue I write, I try to find a sweet spot between “real” conversation and the “polished” version of organic flow that the superior TV shows and movies are capable of. When I lived in Germany, I used to go for walks alone in the nearby countryside and just let my mind wander through scenes that weren’t yet written, and often I’d return home and thrash out some good work, my creative energy refilled. Where I currently live though, that’s not much of an option, so instead I just go for a lie down, close my eyes and let the characters play out their conversations in my head. It does work, and some nights it even stops me from getting to sleep.

What reactions do you hope to inspire in others? 
All of the good reactions! I want readers to be excited, invested, and eager to keep reading. I want their heartstrings to be twanged at the right moments. I want them to feel a real sense of wonder, immersion, and all emotions ranging from laughter to tears, from comfort to dread. I want to hear readers say that their experience was a wonderful ride and that they’re eager to read more. Ah… and I’d also like them to review what they’ve read – it doesn’t help if you only tell an author that their book is great; don’t keep it private, make it public and tell the world by writing a review on Amazon and Goodreads. If you’re not confident with writing a review, just keep it simple. “I loved this book,” is about as simple as you can get, but that, plus the star rating, is MUCH better than not doing so at all.

Where is your writing taking you? 
I’m currently working on the second novel in the Fractured Tapestry series. Oriken, one of the main characters from The Blighted City, will return, but this time he’ll be going much further. This novel is not a direct sequel to The Blighted City; my plans are for it to be the first of a sub-series (which may only contain two novels, maybe more). I’ll be unlocking much more of the world and taking the adventures to new lands, some of which were mentioned or hinted at in The Blighted City. Essentially, my aim is to blow The Blighted City out of the water with “Book Two”, and I’m excited to be writing it. This is a story I wanted to write several years ago but which I lacked the skill to create. Now, with more “Author XP” under my belt, I’m confident that Book Two will give me an “Author Level-Up!” Stay tuned.

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Interview with Author Frank Martin

Frank Martin has written novels, short stories, and comics. His work has been featured in numerous collaborations, including Blackest Knights which I recently reviewed. His story "The King and The Witch" was one of my favorites, and he was kind enough to agree to an interview here. 

What inspired your world building process?
Anything and everything. Sometimes it’s simple as another story I read/saw/played (Shhh. Don’t tell anyone). Other times it can be something a bit more subtle. Things in our everyday life. An animal, job, or relationship. The best stories, no matter if they’re in fantasy worlds or far among the stars, always contain a hint of things we can recognize. Details that allow a reader to relate your wild and crazy world to something in their own.

Who are you writing for and why? 
Me. 95% of the time, unless I’m writing a story for a particular person, I’m writing for myself. Because I have something to say or an itch I need scratching. I know, as a writer, I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to have an audience in mind when I craft a story. But I don’t. I write something because I would like to read it. If others like to read it too then great!

What do you do to recharge your creative energy? 
This question sounds different than, “what do you do to break writer’s block?” Which I would either answer with “showering” or “wandering a supermarket.” But recharging creative energy? I guess the best way to do that is to watch my kids play. I usually like to play with them, but just sitting back on the couch, watching them run around and play make believe, that’s the best way to get my mind racing and rejuvenate my muse.

What reactions do you hope to inspire in others?
Depends on the story. It could be hope. Fear. Sadness. Joy. Laughter. Despair. I don’t try to limit the stories I tell to one style or another. The genres I write it and the characters I can create can be as wide as life itself. So in that regards, I hope the reactions are just as varied.

Where is your writing taking you?
Wherever it wants to. I have no direction. I just pump the gas and jump in for the ride.

Find more from Frank Martin:

Twitter: @frankthewriter 

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