Tag Archives: fantasy adventures

Classics You’ve Never Read, Part One: Why Pretend?

Classic: a book that people praise and no one reads.

-Mark Twain

I hope you enjoy my attempt to create a series of blogs around great works of heroic fiction that most folks haven’t read. Several of these I have mentioned before in one forum or another but now I want to try and do several things: amuse you, get you interested in checking them out, and perhaps find a window into the writer’s craft through these past works that resonate with us so well in other forms.

There’s no shame in seeing the movie, let me hasten to mention that. In nearly every case I can think of, I found the book to be better, but usually that was only after seeing the tale. When a classic is redone, it’s interesting to see whether the basic inner stuff of it has changed. I find, most often not; even Hollywood doesn’t always screw that up!

This Question of Disguises, Now…

For my first theme, I want to look at two great classics that share one such common idea. Their heroes, set in almost the same time period but halfway around the world, do the same thing when faced with evil. They adopt a secret identity. This raises a great question, one that classic heroic and epic fantasy seldom touches on- why pretend?

Most folks know why Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent took on a mild-mannered alter ego- freedom to act and the need to protect loved ones from harm. But Superman and Batman, it turns out, were far from the first.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is widely thought to be the first hero in history to have a secret identity. It’s also one of the first heroic fantasy tales authored by a woman, the Baroness d’Orczy in 1903. There’s definitely something up with that, and if I say much more I’ll be accused (with justice) of chauvinism. But I’m here to tell you, guys aren’t nearly as interested in hiding their powers as women are in believing this dope before them truly has hidden talents. Deep water here, and I don’t swim well…

Tiny flower, BIG action.
Tiny flower, BIG action.

This is a gorgeous tale of death and danger in the blackest days of the French Revolution, when the Reign of Terror was eating people by the hundreds. Faking his disinterested, foppish life as a useless English dandy, Sir Percy Blakeney conceals from everyone- including his beautiful new French wife- that he secretly commands, as one of his followers puts it, “nineteen men who would lay down their lives” for him. Guided by his brilliant mind, the Pimpernel and his gang outwit the horrid, cruel, secular (!) French soldiers and agents to save dozens of innocent French aristocrats from the guillotine’s embrace. Then he returns to English society sporting the latest fashions, on the arm of his wife making witty remarks and annoying everyone- especially her- with his “inane laughter”.

The Best Intentions

We discover as the story moves briskly along that there has been a terrible misunderstanding crossing the main characters, one that probably won’t be happily resolved and which could lead to Blakeney’s death. He had only started his career of rescuing French nobility when he married the gorgeous Parisian actress Marguerite, whom he secretly still worships. For her part, Marguerite defended her beloved brother Armand by speaking down about a leading aristocrat, and her denunciation led to the death of that entire family- staining her with suspicion of sympathy for the Revolution. Blakeney adopts the guise of a flaccid fool, always honoring his wife and giving her every luxury but never letting on that he could be the mysterious hero capable of leading such daring and intelligent escapes. She is stung by the change in her husband and resorts to sarcasm, making fun of him in an effort to rouse the man she thought she knew. All this makes her look even more guilty to Blakeney’s heartbroken view. And when the dastardly French agent Chauvelin gets wind that Marguerite’s brother Armand may be helping the Pimpernel, he blackmails her with the young man’s life in order to enlist her help in exposing the enemy of the Revolution.

"Chicks dig that romantic crap!"
“Chicks dig that romantic crap!”

One remarkable aspect of this secret identity theme is that the hero is so obviously torn; he dare not let Marguerite know the truth because she appears to side with the enemy. Yet Percy is hopelessly in love with his wife still. After a moonlit encounter on their veranda where Marguerite implores him to be more truthful with her, he holds firm as the lazy, disinterested dandy until she turns to go. Then he throws himself to the tiles and kisses the ground whereon she walked. I’m telling you, chicks dig this stuff!

But the other aspect that may be of interest to the writer is that this situation compels us to see almost nothing directly from the hero’s point of view. For at least three-quarters of the story, you search for the Scarlet Pimpernel along with everyone else (you do better than they do). Nothing is told from Percy’s perspective until close to the end; there is a level of remove where you don’t read what he thinks or feels, only what he says and does. This increases the tension and reveals his character beautifully, whereas an omniscient third-person view would struggle hard not to seem maudlin or cute. Much of the heart of the tale is really from Marguerite’s point of view. The moment when the awful truth finally breaks down the doors of her mind- when she realizes that she has already led her husband, the man she always loved, into Chauvelin’s death-trap- is the height of the story.

What Hollywood Made of It

Hugh Grant did well enough in the movie-version I would say, but the earlier flick with Leslie Howard (who played Ashley Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind”) sticks in my head. Ironically, it was Howard who immortalized the phrase “Sink me!” coming from the dandy Sir Blakeney; yet in the first book of The Scarlet Pimpernel Blakeney never uses that phrase. Also Merle Oberon perfectly matches my image of Marguerite.

Sink me! Nice cravat, wot?
Sink me! Nice cravat, wot?

In summary, we have a tale in which the hero adopts a secret identity specifically to prevent his plans from being overset and to keep his men from even greater danger. And he takes this foppish guise chiefly to keep the tale away from his beloved- not because he fears harm to her, but because he suspects she is his enemy. This sets up tremendous pathos and conflict in every scene they spend together, and d’Orczy exploits this original idea with fabulous prose that cuts to the heart of the scene each time. Her descriptions, dialogue and turns of phrase are uniformly apt and convey the emotion without slowing the pace too much. I think like any reader, I had moments where I “got it already” and was a bit impatient when she lingered on an image or reinforced an emotion, but there was nothing here to take me out of the tale for a second. I would rank The Scarlet Pimpernel as classic Heroic Fantasy (using my Fantasy Solar System taxonomy), shading towards Cinematic mood in places, particularly where Percy adopts an ingenious disguise despite his enemies knowing what to watch for.

Final bit of trivia- it was first put up as a stage play and evidently struggled, but the novel was published in the same year and did wonderfully right away. And I would rank The Scarlet Pimpernel as one of my top three ever Broadway shows- “Into the Fire” still makes me stand up and cheer out loud.

Read it For Free

I downloaded The Scarlet Pimpernel for free to my phone from Amazon Kindle Classics- this is a wonderful value for me because I’m often traveling or without my laptop and can still read quite easily on the phone. I can change the background and font-size to suit my failing eyes, and the only feature I miss from the laptop version is the automatic dictionary. The free versions do suffer from imperfect formatting and there is the occasional mis-spelled word or even repeated phrase, but it’s nothing to pull down your enjoyment of the tale. Here’s another site to get it as an e-book, and you can also listen to it as an audio-book.

So, which tale is set at the same time, but far away and also makes use of a secret identity? Stay tuned for Part Two! And let me know how you reacted to any version of The Scarlet Pimpernel you may have seen or read.

An Interview with Annie Lima

Q: Well, harumph. I can’t say I’m happy to be doing a “civilized” interview, after the fun I’ve had in Hahn_critic_1my author interview dungeon. Alas, all the cool stuff has been moved to my home blog now; here on IB, there are only soft, cushy chairs, curtains too thick to use for binding ropes and some completely dull, soft plastic tea cups. How am I going to get any information from this vict- ahm, guest? ::muttering:: It’s been so long since I’ve been polite during questioning.

::game-show face :: We welcome Annie Douglass Lima today to talk about her new release The Gladiator and the Guard. This is the second title in her Krillonian Chronicles series, set in a world where modern life coexists with permanent slavery.

Q: Let’s see, a tale of arena combat? You won’t need to work hard to hook this former history teacher! Of course, in the Roman Empire most gladiators had families, and some were quite young, though we hardly think of that. Where did you get the idea to combine these threads and have siblings face the pressures of the arena? It’s a terrific dilemma, very evocative.

Annie Douglass LimaA: Thank you! The idea grew out of the first book, in which I established the principles of slavery and how it works in the Krillonian Empire, a modern world very similar to our own. Of course slaves would have families, and of course they would be separated from them if they were sold away. I just had to decide how and why people would become gladiators (who are perceived by most of that world as athletic heroes but are really still just slaves). In The Gladiator and the Guard, the arena manager obtains new “glads” primarily by purchasing slaves who are already martial arts experts. He occasionally offers contracts to free athletes, but it’s rare for anyone to accept, since that involves payment in advance and then voluntarily entering into slavery in the arena. Plus, contracts are always for a lifetime (and glads’ lives are notoriously short). In the Krillonian Empire, enslavement (usually involving sale by auction) is the legal punishment for certain crimes, so he also keeps an eye on the online auction sites. When violent criminals become available – or anyone with combat experience or documented martial arts abilities runs afoul of the law – he is quick to place a bid.

Q: This is fabulous, a kind of lifetime slavery that’s not strictly racial. Could you elaborate on the kinds of crimes that can get you dumped into this fate? We seem to be talking about people not born to slavery, and that’s always tricky. {Of course, everyone would like to believe they’d heroically resist, and succeed- but then Stockholm Syndrome was discovered…}. But at any rate, Bensin and his sister didn’t do anything wrong, did they?

A: Bensin and his sister actually were born into slavery. Slavery is hereditary, but there are other ways to become a slave, too. Bensin’s parents were enslaved as kids, when their homeland of Tarnestra (originally an independent nation) became part of the Krillonian Empire. The people of Tarnestra fought valiantly to retain independence, and when their resistance was eventually crushed, tens of thousands of Tarnestrans were ripped from their homes and sold into slavery across the empire as a warning to anyone else who might be tempted to resist imperial progress.

Punishing certain crimes with enslavement (not only for the perpetrator but for his or her family) is the government’s way of motivating people to keep the law. Bensin’s friend Ricky, for example, was born free but enslaved at age ten along with his parents and brother, when his dad (who worked for a government agency) was caught embezzling money from his employer. Other crimes punishable by enslavement include murder, armed robbery, and attempting to illegally free slaves.

Q: These works lie very close to the more orthodox epic and heroic fantasy genres, so that leads me to two questions, both driven by envy. When you laid in the “world-building” of the Krillonian Empire, did you find it necessary to go back and pull some out, move some around, etc. or else lose energy in the plot? And do you think it was easier to describe a setting closer to the Alleged Real World (except for, you know, slavery and people fighting for amusement), or was it perhaps harder?

A: I did a lot of planning and prewriting before I started my first draft of the first book, so I didn’t end up having to make too many changes to the worldbuilding once I had begun. Occasionally I thought of new details that I was able to add in as I went along, but those were mostly pretty minor. For example, since slavery in the Krillonian Empire is not based on race, there had to be a specific way to identify slaves. I knew from the beginning that they wear steel collars that lock around their necks, providing their names and their owners’ contact information. Obviously that makes it much harder for slaves to escape, but there are certainly tools out there (in any world) that can cut through metal. In The Collar and the Cavvarach, there came a point when I realized I needed to establish a reason why anyone with bolt cutters couldn’t just go around freeing slaves. So I had a certain mechanic explain to an inquiring young slave that he had to have a special kind of license to own and use such tools in his car repair shop, and that involved security cameras through which the authorities could be watching him at any given moment.

Q: BTW, try to get a little episode called “Gamesters of Triskelion” on your viewing list. Captain Kirk in his beefcake-prime and slave-collars you’ll really like!

I’ll keep that in mind! As for your second question, it was both easier and harder in different ways to create a setting so close to the Alleged Real World. I have a fantasy series that takes place in a totally different world, and with that one, I was able to make all the rules. But it took an awful lot of worldbuilding to flesh everything out. With this series in the Krillonian Empire, I mainly just combined a couple of modern-day Earth cultures and left it at that, of course with the addition of slavery and a made-up martial art. But then there was the challenge of making sure everything I said was consistent with how things really work in our world. For example, I know very little about firearms or martial arts training or the types of mechanical problems an old pickup truck could encounter, but I needed to make those details realistic in the story. I should say, I knew very little about those topics. Dozens of hours of research later, I’m much more knowledgeable!

Q: I should probably have asked this earlier, but who do you think is the target audience for these stories, in terms of age but also anything else you can think of? And is that your “core” audience, I mean the one you always thought you’d be trying to reach?

A: These books are young adult fiction, meaning they’re geared toward teens and adults. I teach fifth grade, and while I know a few of my students have read and enjoyed The Collar and the Cavvarach, I have never suggested it to them, or to anyone else below middle school, as recommended reading (unlike my fantasy books). The subject matter is dark in places, and while there is no sex or language, I don’t really want my fifth graders pondering issues like why the characters would say slavery is worse for girls, for example. The first book contains just a little violence, and that’s mostly in controlled settings like tournaments, where participants fight with unsharpened blades. But the second book would definitely be rated PG-13 for violence, as well as for a few mentions of blood and gore.

I would say the target audience consists of any teens and adults who like an exciting adventure story. Anyone with an interest in martial arts, or perhaps in the gladiators of ancient Rome, would be especially interested. I never thought I would write a martial arts story; I never used to be particularly interested in martial arts myself, and it had never been my goal to reach readers who are. But then along came Bensin with a story that just had to be told, and martial arts were an inextricable part of it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: Can you give us a quick run-down on the gladiatorial combat, called cavvara shil, that happens in the tales? The weapon looks decently wicked, but the cover of Book Two also shows a disappointingly-protective looking helmet. You don’t mean to tell me fighters sometimes survive?

A: The martial art of cavvara shil is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with “have a rack”), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  cavvarachI wanted cavvara shil to be a combination of two or three different fighting styles, involving elements of unarmed combat as well as the use of a weapon. It took a few false starts before I had a fighting style I liked. At first I just pictured using a sword, but I wanted something a little less stereotypical.  The cavvarach, with its hook, ended up being just right for what I had in mind. Combatants try to snag their opponent’s hook to tug the weapon out of the other person’s hand, which is one way to win a duel. (They can also knock it away with their own cavvarach, or kick it away.) Besides disarming an opponent, you can win by knocking them over and pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds. Oh, and you can block blows with your shil, which is like a narrow shield that barely covers one forearm.

In The Collar and the Cavvarach, 14-year-old Bensin competes in cavvara shil tournaments to earn prize money for his owner. Like everyone else there, he fights with an unsharpened blade and wears poncho-like padding to protect his torso and groin in the event of a missed parry. Worse injuries than bruises or the occasional bloody nose are rare at such events. In The Gladiator and the Guard, however, Bensin (now 18) is forced to be a gladiator, and he soon discovers that everything works differently in the arena. All blades are razor sharp, and protective padding doesn’t exist. Most duels are not intended to end in death (that would be a waste; gladiators are valuable), but accidents can and do happen. The helmet you see on the cover is actually for the guards who keep an eye on the combat from a safe distance to serve as referees and (when necessary) bring the injured in on stretchers at the end.

Q: Oh, the helmet is for the guards? OK, then I’m glad it’s been broken! I couldn’t let you go without a nod to your life in the Alleged Real World. You may be the guest who’s come the furthest of anyone to be here on the Independent Bookworm! Assuming of course that “here” is in the US or Europe… pardon me, my ethnocentrism is showing. But do tell us a bit about your world, the one you see when you turn away from the screen.

A: At the moment, when I turn away from my screen I see twenty-six empty desks and walls covered with colorful science project display boards. (My students are out at lunch recess right now.) I teach at Morrison Academy in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. It’s a wonderful job in a wonderful place! My husband and I have lived in Taiwan for nearly nine years now, and we love it here! I’ve enjoyed inserting elements of Taiwanese culture into these two books. For example, some characters chew betel nut, a mild narcotic sold legally in shops decorated with flashing colored lights. When money is awarded as a prize, it’s given in a red envelope. Cheap boxed meals available at “hole-in-the-wall” eateries are a common and convenient meal for laborers or anyone in a hurry or short on cash. New Year is the most important holiday of the year in both places. In Book 3 (which I hope to draft in the fall), much of the action will take place in a different city of the Krillonian Empire, one which I plan to pattern closely after Taichung.

Q: Cities, climate, customs– too much to ask about! Let’s just call this a pause, and perhaps have you back when Book 3 is ready. I’d love to ::cough-cough :: show you my ahm, interview chambers, you’d love the decor. Thanks very much Annie for a terrific peek at an interesting world. Make sure to leave us with your contact links and a blurb about your current release.

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I’m excited to announce that my young adult action and adventure novel, The Gladiator and the Guard, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach.

First Things First: a Little Information about Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire’s most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie’s escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

 What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The Collar and the Cavvarach
sword isolated on white background; Shutterstock ID 109466807

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with “have a rack”), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

Click here to order The Collar and the Cavvarach from Amazon 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

 And now, The Gladiator and the Guard, with another awesome cover by the talented Jack Lin!

The Gladiator and the Guard.jpg

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard in Kindle format from Amazon

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

 Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard from Smashwords (for Nook or in other digital formats) 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.

Connect with the Author Online:

Email: AnnieDouglassLima@gmail.com

Blog: http://anniedouglasslima.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnnieDouglassLimaAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/princeofalasia

Goodreads: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnGoodreads

Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/AnnieDouglassLimaOnAmazon

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/AnnieDouglassLima

LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnLinkedIn

Google Plus: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnGooglePlus

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