Orison Release Week: Ashen

8853781Normally, I use this blog to discuss my own process and progress, but today I’m making an exception. The folks at Nine Muse Press asked me if I would participate in the release week blog tour for an upcoming publication, and as I am very much a fan of the novel in question, I was more than happy to oblige.

That being said, it gives me particularly great pleasure today to introduce you to Daniel Swensen and his debut novel Orison, which will be released on Friday the 28th.

Daniel has been working on Orison for a long while, and I’ve known him only a relatively short span of that time, but he is among the most insightful and talented writers with whom it is my pleasure to swap ideas on a regular basis. His writing has a spirit, intelligence, and vivacity that leave the reader hungry for more, and Orison is certainly no exception to this rule.

From the first page, I was intrigued, and I read the entire thing in one sitting. It reminded me of the many great gaming adventures and fantasy novels I enjoyed as a younger person—unlikely heroes, desperate gambles, amazing surprises—but altogether lacked the troublesome, outworn tropes that have at times left me at odds with the genre.

Surely there has been no better investment of my Saturday afternoon in a very long time.

While there were many reasons for this, the one that stood out to me most was the character of Ashen One-Howl, and I trust that you will see very shortly why that was so.

Ashen is one of the Warborn, a race of beings by crafted their sorcerous masters for the purpose of waging war. He is intimidating, bred for battle, stripped of all physical weaknesses. Nor does he look human by any stretch of the imagination. His is bestial, with gleaming fangs, tufts of fur, and a face that brings to mind something between a wolf and a pre-human ancestor out of dimmest antiquity.

But if your first guess is that Ashen is little more than the Orison world’s equivalent of an orc—a subhuman creature to be treated by readers and characters alike as a manifestation of mindless, disposable evil—then you would be very wrong.

In so many fantasy works, truly nonhuman races often function as faceless stereotypes. They populate the ravening hordes that can be slain at will without muddying the characters’ morality. Their culture—if the author deigns to give them one—is painted in broad, unflattering strokes designed to provoke disgust or enmity. They seldom speak for themselves. The reader is even more rarely given a chance to witness them think for themselves.

But in Ashen, Daniel has painted a portrait of a character who is at once distinctly at odds with the human world and eminently understandable. This is, in my opinion, to Daniel’s considerable credit. We walk and think and act with Ashen, and we come to understand what drives him as the story unfolds. Most importantly, we do this on Ashen’s terms, and because we are privileged to do so, we come to learn that he is more complex than any first glance would suggest.

I could say a great deal more, but I think it’s best to let Ashen speak for himself, so I am pleased to share with you an exclusive pre-release excerpt from Orison featuring this awesome character:

The sun had set while Ashen lingered in the shadow gap. He left his quarters — a tiny room with the decor of a dungeon cell — and returned to the dim, arched corridors of Stormhelt. It was a lonely walk from the east wing of the castle, through silent arcades and halls hung with tapestries. The moon Pale threw colorless slats of light across his path, and his footsteps echoed in the quiet dark. 

Climbing the broad marble steps to the queen’s chambers, he ordered the chamberlain to announce his arrival. A pair of Scarlets stood before the door, the blades of their pikes giving off the faintly hissing red smoke of runic enchantments. 

The chamberlain waved him in, and the guards let him pass without a word. Ashen stepped into the room, feeling a pang of trepidation at disturbing her so late. 

The queen had not been sleeping. She sat at her desk, writing in a heavy book with a silver quill. She wore no veil, nor the ritual red sigils she wore in public. Her pale hair did not shine with unnatural luster, but lay fine and unruly around her shoulders, shades darker than it appeared at court. Even the magical glamer of her immaculate skin had lapsed — Ashen could see the uneven green of her eyes, the lines at the corners of her mouth, and the light spray of freckles across her nose. 

Her true appearance was a vulnerability she afforded few others, Ashen knew, and it honored him to see it. He wondered if men would still find her beautiful like this, or if it was only the artifice they could love. 

“Majesty, I apologize for intruding at this hour.” 

She continued writing, not looking up from her book. “What is it?” 

Now that the moment had come, Ashen was less confident. “I had a vision,” he blurted.

Without a word, the queen put down her pen and propped her chin on her hand, waiting. Though the queen knew of his magical talents, he could only imagine how this must look to her after his criticism of Ravano’s visions in the carriage. 

“As I was traversing the shadow gap, I saw something.” 

“That’s not unusual, Ashen.” The use of his informal name pleased him in ways he couldn’t quite grasp. 

“It is for me.” Ashen described the phantom Calushain and the appearance of woman he knew to be Penumbra. When he described the red stone, the queen rose to her feet. Ashen’s ears flicked to attention. 

“Describe it again,” she said, her gaze intent. Ashen tried to read her emotions — fear? anger? — but realized that her glamer had returned, her skin and hair turned radiant, her eyes vivid green. Whatever she was feeling laid behind her artifice now. 

“A round red stone, a hand’s breadth in size, polished. Black strands like liquid swimming within. She said you would know its importance.” 

“She said it was coming here?”

“’My gift is already on its way. The only question is who will receive it,’” Ashen quoted. 

The queen turned away from him, biting down on one finely manicured fingernail.

“Majesty,” he said after what he hoped was a courteous pause. “What is this gift?” 

“Yes,” she said in a small voice. She turned to face him again. This time, he saw the dark worry in her eyes. “Orison.” 

“I do not understand.” 

“Chaos. Ruin. The oldest magic. Old when the first humans first crept out of Eiler into the heat of the sun. You must get it for me, One-Howl. If it’s in the city, the other lords must not learn of its existence. It would tear these negotiations apart.” 

“Why?” Ashen realized that the queen was afraid, and for the second time that day, felt fear himself. 

The queen stood silent for a long time before replying. “Because of what it represents. The favor of dragons. The most powerful favor they have. Ashen, you must speak to Penumbra again.” 

A dragon’s favor is the worst slavery of all, Ashen thought. Loyalty and dread churned in his stomach. Surely the queen could not trust the Semblance of Shadows. There must be some greater game he did not understand, and dared not ask about. 

“But I refused her,” he said. 

“Then find her again!” she snapped, rounding on him. Ashen stepped back involuntarily. 

I don’t know how, Ashen began to say, then snapped his jaws shut. He understood at last that his atonement was upon him. He would find this orison for his queen, and if it brought all Calushain to ruin, as Penumbra promised, then so be it.  

She was his Sworn. If she asked for the sun, he would climb the sky until he burned. 

“It will be done, Majesty.”

If you enjoyed this excerpt, I encourage you to check out the other posts in this release week feature. Each details a different character and offers an exclusive excerpt. You can find them here:

Sunday, Feb. 23: Ruth Long and Wrynn

Monday, Feb. 24: Angela Goff and Dunnac

Tuesday, Feb. 25: Myself, at this blog, and Ashen

Wednesday, Feb. 26: Tracy McCusker and Camana (2 pm EST)

Thursday, Feb. 27: Emmie Mears and Story (2 pm EST)

And finally, if you want to own a copy of Orison, you can purchase it in eBook format starting on Friday, February 28th, at the Nine Muse Press store. I can’t recommend the book enough.

Many thanks to Daniel for an outstanding novel, to Anna of Nine Muse Press for an excellent job as editrix, and to all others involved, both known and unknown to me.