Heroes are hard to write – and The Warrior’s Bond has two of them…

I’m delighted to let you know that The Warrior’s Bond is now out in ebook! Just in time for Eastercon!

Huge thanks as ever to Elizabeth and Cheryl, and check out the left hand scroll bar for the click to purchase links. The roll-out to other outlets, Kindle, Nook etc, will happen over the next few days as usual.

Meantime? As with each of these ebook releases, I’ve been thinking back to the challenges of writing each particular story and here, the problem was heroes.

Let’s face it; virtue is assuredly admirable but it can all too often be rather dull. A good man in a story really can struggle to rise above that single, defining characteristic. Be honest; who’s more interesting; Superman or Batman? Consider Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Luke’s story is as straight-forward as his personality and both of these things make him increasingly predictable as the first three (and only worthwhile) Star Wars films unfold. Yes, he faces trials and tribulations, with a noteworthy performance from Mark Hamill, but Luke’s done nothing to deserve any of this, good or bad, beyond being born. Consequently our emotional reactions to his story are likely to be just as straight-forward.

Han Solo? He’s unpredictable from start to finish (as Greedo discovers when Han shoots first) and that’s merely one aspect of his appeal. His back story is full of secrets and misadventures with lingering consequences that can and do come back to bite him. Our reactions are consequently complex. Yes, we’re anguished for him but honestly, Han, you do bring these things on yourself… As a result his story is a many-layered one of challenge and redemption and overall that’s so much more interesting, isn’t it?

I sometimes wonder how influential Star Wars was on my generation of fantasy writers. Is this one of the reasons why epic secondary worlds seem currently mired in grimdark, with characters displaying an infinite number of shades of grey rather than seeing heroes ride into battle on their white horses to face off against the black hooded menace of Tolkien’s day? Though this cuts both ways. We see a convincing complexity within evil now and that’s definitely a good thing. Motiveless malignity just doesn’t convince anyone these days. But I digress.

So where did thinking about heroes in these terms leave me, when I realised that the unfolding logic of the Tales of Einarinn would see Ryshad and Temar working together in Toremal, searching for the remaining artefacts needed to restore the lost colony of Kellarin. Oh, I had the framework of the plot, with any number of difficulties and puzzles to test them as they face treachery and rival ambitions determined to frustrate them.

But I knew that wouldn’t be enough. Both men’s personalities had to be integral to the story’s resolution and we had to see the effects of success and failure on their individual characters, from the start through to the end of the book. There had to be metaphorical journeys for both men, driven by intense, fast paced events, with The Warrior’s Bond unfolding almost entirely within the city of Toremal over the course of five days.

Well, as with so many aspects of writing, it’s always worth considering what other authors have done, when looking for a starting point. For instance, Jack Aubrey is an interesting hero, in Patrick O’Brien’s tales of Napoleonic sea-faring from Master and Commander onwards. Jack’s definitely a good guy but he’s what I’ve seen defined as a mono-competent hero, as opposed to the omni-competent hero; one in the Captain American mould. Jack Aubrey is second to none when it comes to fighting a naval battle, but when he has to deal with everyday life ashore? He is, to coin a phrase, all at sea. This gives him vulnerabilities and challenges which add complexity and interest to his story, by prompting actions and reactions which reveal more depth to his character.

So I looked to put both of this story’s heroes on a shaky footing. That was readily done with Temar because he’s a man out of his time. He cannot necessarily rely on what he thinks he knows about this place and how it works, while every day brings harsh reminders of what he has lost. He has to depend on what people are telling him, aware that they’re likely to have their own agenda but without the background knowledge to tell him what their personal interests might be and how far they might be shading the truth. Unlike Captain America (a very interesting current portrayal of a hero incidentally), he doesn’t have an Einarinn Internet to help him work through a list of things he finds to check out. Add to that Temar’s comparatively young, and as readers of The Swordsman’s Oath will know, he has been known to make ill-considered decisions with less than ideal results.

Ryshad is older and wiser and well used to thinking things through, as we have seen in The Thief’s Gamble and The Swordsman’s Oath. So how could I throw him off balance? Well, if an anti-hero struggles to reconcile the noble and selfish sides of his character, a good man can be pulled in two different directions by conflicting loyalties. As Ryshad returns to Toremal, he discovers he’s increasingly a man out of place. His travels and his experiences, including but by no means limited to falling in love with Livak, have changed him. But his old life and duty cannot easily be discarded. Given his age and life experience, the one thing he simply won’t do is make a rash choice and consider everything else well lost for love. But his relationship with Livak isn’t some casual rush of lust either. He’s absolutely not about to give her up.

So now I had my heroes each with one metaphorical hand tied behind their backs. Now we could see if the bond between them would enable the pair to overcome the challenges they were about to face…


Author: Juliet

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy inspired by British folklore in 2018, and The Green Man’s Quarry in 2023 is the sixth title in this ongoing series. Her 2023 novel The Cleaving is a female-centred retelling of the story of King Arthur, while her shorter stories include forays into dark fantasy, steampunk and science fiction. She promotes SF&Fantasy by reviewing, by blogging on book trade issues, attending conventions and teaching creative writing. She has served as a judge for major genre awards. As J M Alvey, she has written historical murder mysteries set in ancient Greece.

10 thoughts on “Heroes are hard to write – and The Warrior’s Bond has two of them…

  1. I’m trying to think who/what my influences are when it comes to writing heroes – given I’ve never seen an entire Star Wars film. And given how late in life I started writing.

    Probably James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Mal Reynolds from TV/film, as well as the likes of Gandalf, Aragorn, Eomer, and Frodo from books. I think Tolkien’s impact on me is well-nigh indelible because I’ve read TH and TLotR so often.

    Bond is heroic, but his misogyny drives me crazy; Mal is very dodgy, but there’s a heart of gold under there somewhere (I think of the way he treats River, in particular); and Indiana Jones is one of those stupidly heroic blokes who has that scholarly side that we hardly see but hugely appeals to me.

  2. Perhaps because of where and when I grew up, I never thought of heroes as one-dimensional-good. Or good as dull and boring and bad as exciting and fun. (The bad kids I knew were dully predictably bad…they would ALWAYS try to hurt you, in unimaginative ways and for banal reasons.) The things I found exciting were neither bad nor good in themselves, I was told–nothing wrong with riding horses fast, climbing trees, piloting airplanes–but it was why, where, when, etc. that made the difference. Thoughtless wasn’t exciting–it was stupid. (My mother was trained as an engineer: “What did you THINK would happen?” and an analysis of failure was routine after every break, spill, mess, etc. As I was energetic and inventive, there were plenty of such lectures.)

    Heroes, to me, were people who accomplished some good anyway–in spite of their own failures, in spite of opposition from outside, in spite of…anything. They didn’t have to be perfect; they only had to persist in the right direction (and they didn’t have to be sure it was the right direction.) Most of my childhood heroes were real people I knew, and then gradually some I met in books. I loathed the moralistic children’s books (not all were) that made good seem easy (it didn’t seem easy to me–there were 99 ways to screw up for every way to get a social situation right.)

    As a kid I definitely tended toward admiring the more obvious, active type of hero, only coming to recognize the quieter kind in adulthood. Now I try to be sure I write more than one kind in any story…and show the complexity of background and motivation that reveal how difficult it can be to find the right way forward, let alone stay on that trail. The heroes I write all have complex pasts, with ample opportunity to make mistakes, fail to understand, be stricken at moments by something from the past, and find that what they’ve long considered a strength/talent/skill/virtue is useless or even dead wrong harmful in a new situation.

    1. I very nearly got diverted into a blog post looking at heroes in classic Westerns, in the James Stewart mould, compared and contrasted with the flawed characters of classic noir, as played by Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Cagney. Those films have a lot to say about what makes a hero, from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance though to Angels with Dirty Faces.

  3. Hooray! I may wait for B&N to buy it — I still have credit there from the price fixing settlement. I love what you did with Temar and Ryshad.

  4. you are so right about this; heroes have to be all kinds of shades of grey and writing them well is always a challenge. And Star Wars! I often talk about it’s influence on my work when I do school visits or the odd panel. I think it had a huge affect on me and that first one (and of course it was the best one!) is still one of my favourite films.

  5. Once again I lose precious time reading in Einarinn because I don’t visit your blog often enough. This time, though, since I’ve already waited 10 days I will wait a little longer, to ask which e-vendor pays you the best. I’ll buy the book from wherever that is.

    1. Since the Wizard’s Tower ebook store is closing this weekend, all the other outlets – Kindle, Nook, whatever, pay me pretty much the same, so go with whatever works best for you. (And thanks!)

      1. Your pittance will be coming to you from Amazon US. Also I will once again suggest to my local library system that they pick up your back catalog on e-book. (They aren’t slighting you in particular; they are simply abysmal at purchasing SF/F — and they do have your Hadrumal Crisis books.)

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