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30 January 2012

FALLENWOOD by Leslie D Soule - Review and guest post

Tour Contest 
 Leslie will be giving away a $25 Barnes and Noble Gift Card to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour as well as to the host with the most comments. Comment on each blog tour stop to increase your chances. Full list of tour stops can be found HERE

Today I'm delighted to welcome Leslie Soule to my blog as part of her Blog Tour .  I've just read her book 'Fallenwood' and here are my thoughts on the story:

Fallenwood—a land where magic is the life force, dragons are sages, and wizards good and evil battle for supremacy. When 23-year-old Ash is thrust into the middle of Fallenwood’s power struggles, she is also forced to face her own inner battles. Life on Earth was hard enough on Ash, who is locked in grief for her stepfather. Now, the fate of Fallenwood rests on her shoulders. She must destroy the Great Crystal—the catalyst for all the land’s magic. As the kingdoms prepare for war, Ash must look inside to find the power to save the world, and herself.

I really enjoyed  this delightful tale of a young girl finding faith in herself, and a reason to go on - of adventure, prophesies, and romance.  Like all good fantasies, it has its dark moments, but these are necessary before the final hurdle can be overcome.  The heroine, Ashley Kensington, is in the depths of despair when the book opens, mourning the death of her stepfather, to whom she was closer than she is to her mother. After scattering the ashes (is it a coincidence she is called 'Ash'?) she wanders into the woods and is transported through a portal into another world - an 'alternate' Earth, but one where magic is commonplace - and has a heavy price!

The other characters in this book are many and varied, so many in fact I had a job to keep track of them sometimes, but that was due more to my own shortcomings than to the writing.  Characters with weird and wonderful names, and not all human either.  There is a talking cat called 'Greymalkin', who had not always been a cat, a beautiful but deadly black unicorn, an evil toad, an ancient wolf who guards a crystal of ultimate power, and, of course,  dragons. The humans are, for the most part very likeable and easy to relate to, apart from the 'villains' of course, some of whom hide their darker side beneath a surface of charm and good looks. You will meet wizards and magicians, gypsies and a jester, Kings, Queens and a Prince or two and they are all beautifully painted, with interesting and varied personalities. I have to to say I especially liked Will, who is a cental character in the book, and not only a kind of monk, but a magician with his own secret.

The journey for Ash is long and difficult, but along the way she makes friends, as well as the odd enemy or two - and finds her Prince.  Most importantly though, she discovers a new faith in herself and a sense of purpose, leaving behind the hopelessness and dreary future she'd envisaged in the world she had known. If I were asked to be critical, I might say there is rather a lot of  'telling' in the narrative, especially in the first few chapters, but this is really being rather 'picky' as it in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the story.  There are some really beautiful passages, and much of the description is so vivid and well drawn, I could visualise them as if they were illustrated  in colour on the page, or rather, screen.

Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable story, with all the elements required in a good fantasy, including a satisfing love interest. I would not hesitate to recommend it for young adults and more mature adults alike. Now I'll step back to let Leslie herself, to tell us about her world building, and how much is actually based on fact and how much is pure fantasy. 
Over to you Leslie:
World-Building: Fact and Fantasy
Leslie D. Soule

          Hello there! Thanks for inviting me to join you today.

            So the question has been posed as to how much fact versus fantasy I’ve used in the process of building the fantasy world of Fallenwood. For me, this goes back to a debate I had with a co-worker of mine, and an essay by C.S. Lewis where he talks about what fantasy really is. With the debate, my co-worker and I were talking about where ideas are derived from. He argued that when writing fantasy, your ideas shouldn’t be a rip-off of something you’ve seen before – “derivative”, which he used as a derogatory term for something. I argued that everything is essentially derivative of something else, and that there’s nothing wrong with that.
So it’s hard to claim that something is a unique product or creation of mine, because the act of creation involves derivation. Here I’m going to explain the C.S. Lewis essay – he talked about how to create a fantasy item – his formula involved taking two common things like gold and a tree, and combining them to make a gold tree, which doesn’t exist in reality. One of the things I created for Fallenwood was a pack of dragons that usher in the new day, called the Dragons of the Dawn. There are four of them, each a different color. However, claiming them as mine becomes problematic if I think about how I created them – by taking a staple of fantasy literature, dragons, and combining them with the Sword of the Dawn from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (an excellent game, by the way). In the same way, Greymalkin is derived from the “Greymalkin” mentioned in Macbeth and from the talking Redwall creatures I’d read about when I was a child.

Although I can claim the finished products as my own, the things they are derived from are most assuredly not. Let’s see…Magic having a Curse was my idea, but the idea of magic needing a “price” came from the book How To Write Sci-Fi and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. Portals connecting two worlds is a staple of fantasy literature and I cannot claim to own it by any means – it’s been used by C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and whoever wrote the screenplay for the made for TV movie The Tenth Kingdom. Most of the people in Fallenwood are based on real people I’ve known. A big free-hanging crystal in a cave that needs to be destroyed can be found in The Dark Crystal, but there are also crystals in the original Final Fantasy game.

      I’d like to stake my claim on the black unicorn, but I know it’s been done before and by other people as well, and I think Terry Brooks even has a book titled The Black Unicorn. Dragon teeth creating soldiers is from mythology, as is Discordia from the Pan-Experiential. The Pan-Experiential itself is sort of Matrix-derived, I suppose, because if you die in your dream, you die in real life. I’ve borrowed its rules from the Matrix. So….there ya go! I think it’s easy to see how the parts themselves are derived to create unique things, just like C.S. Lewis explained.

            Thanks for having me here! 

It's a pleasure to have you, and that was  really interesting,  Leslie.  I'm a great admirer of both C S Lewis and  Orson Scott Card, myself, and I think, just as there is supposed to be a finite number of plots, there are also a finite number of original fantasy or S F  elements. In my own writing I tend to draw a lot on ancient myths and legends, especially those of my native Wales, and combine and enlarge different aspects to try and create something different and as original as possible. I think this is actually how most writers work, in whatever genre, taking a variety of ideas and weaving them into something new and different and unique to themselves. 

As a  horse lover, I empathised with your black unicorn and was hoping she would not be destroyed in the final part of your book - and I loved your 'Dragons Of The Dawn' which conjured up a beautiful picture in my mind.  Thank you so much for being here today and sharing  some of the background to 'Fallenwood' with us.

Excerpt One:

Tears blinded her. She couldn’t stop and even the rough winds couldn’t scatter the wild thoughts that swirled in her mind—memories of her stepfather, words that people had said at his service, images of her mother and that stupid grin she wore—all she could do was run. Ashley was deeply wounded but was powerless to heal this kind of pain. She’d looked into the face of evil. Her feet hit the gravel, and the wind whipped at her face as she tried to outrun her anguish. She closed her eyes for a split second, and the wind stilled, and she stopped. Ashley looked around her. It had suddenly become night, and she was now in an unfamiliar part of the woods.

Excerpt Two:

The dragon’s eyes glowed, for a flickering moment, with white light.

“Ash,” the dragon continued, “Welcome to Terra Illumina…or as it is more commonly known, Fallenwood.” Then a fierce roaring laugh erupted from the stone, as though the dragon thought the new name a joke. “A dark, difficult, dangerous path lies before you, Ash Kensington.”  

Ash’s heart grew heavy. In truth, she knew that she was destined to some terrible, dark fate. For so long, her life was filled with sadness and doubt, and one horrible thing after another. What else can I hope for?

 “But Ash, you must not lose hope. Our world needs you..."

Leslie Soule lives in Sacramento, California. Fallenwood is her first fantasy novel. She has received her B.A. in English from Sacramento State University and is currently working on her Master’s degree in English at National University.

Price: $4.99
Pages: 194
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Decadent Publishing 

And to whet your appetite further, here is the trailer for 'Fallenwood'

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