It is a fine line to preemptively explain an epic fantasy. No doubt it will be filled with fantastical elements, exotic locations, and a bevy of particular terminology. Explaining any major undertaking in such a realm challenging to describe to the layman, and yet – when a book is new – everyone is a layman. I always feel silly when family members, friends, acquaintances or anyone asks what Imbalance is about because I grew up believing a good epic fantasy concerns itself with the growth and development of multiple characters or the deep history of a fictitious world. Paraphrasing a past is just not a palatable prospect.*
I inevitably end up saying something about the following simplified terms:
These moments hurt a little because it short changes not just my own story, but every one of the amazing, amazing epic fantasy novels I’m proud to have read and loved. If it is woven complex enough, it simply cannot be readily translated to those with a fringe understanding of the genre. My favourite, Erikson, knows (See this post).
So how does this change now via blog? Well, for one I don’t feel like my audience immediately tunes out after hearing the word “magic.” For two I can choose my words a little more carefully. And for three I can assume some manner of interest beyond due diligence.
My query letter used to end with the line, “Purge of Ashes chronicles the mettle of young soldiers as their impact ripples from a dusty road all the way to the gods’ realm” and this is a pretty good starting point. The series is called Imbalance and it has a short game and a long game. The short game is based around the young soldiers of the Loce Freelancers, third division – who they are before the invasion and who they become while treading the ashes. War and upheaval frequently upset balances of power, leaving the young to fill in the shoes of the dead. They undercut self pity and notions of unfairness with the threat of eradication. Choices made in love and actions taken in hate cause butterfly effects that sway rebellions, quell insurrections or force a return to glory. The ordeal suffered by the Loce Freelancers, third division has repercussions that extend beyond each individual’s inner struggle to create tangible change in the world beyond. To simply tread the ashes is not enough. One must be purged to find solace, and with solace comes the return of balance.
The long game is the second half of the query – about the god’s realm. What constitutes balance between good and evil, chaos and stability, is rooted in the nature of the gods and therefore foreign to the mortal mind. For example, the gods of good and evil (alas, I simplify anyway) have separate notions of what constitutes a fair division of power between them, but it is the mortals who they need to sway. The rest, as they say, is in the text.
One final thing: I could type out a laundry list of concepts I believe to be ‘themes’ in Purge of Ashes and they would read like a Grade 5 class studying abstract nouns. What matters isn’t words like ‘glory,’ ‘redemption’, ‘honour’, ‘bravery’ or ‘love’ – what matters is the weight of all such concepts, and how heavy they feel against your chest. The words are empty and typical without the book behind them – and by the time you have read it in full, you can and will decide for yourself.
*Note: this alliterative sentence is entirely for my epic fantasy comrade Sean Rodden.