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A Change is as good as a Severed Head – GUEST POST by Ed McDonald

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A Change is as good as a Severed Head

by Ed McDonald, August 2022


I really love pizza – too much, some might say. But I don’t want it for every meal.

A recent review of Daughter of Redwinter begins “I can’t believe this is the same author who wrote Blackwing!” For them it is a criticism, but for me, I’m very glad that Daughter of Redwinter is a different kettle of fish.

Was this intentional? The answer is both yes, and no.

While written in the first person perspective and proffering a few familiar themes from The Raven’s Mark – demonic creatures, bad magic, murders – Redwinter is undeniably a different type of book to Blackwing, Ravencry and Crowfall. Tone, pacing, theme – readers comparing the two will doubtless find that the narrative voice feels like a separate entity. So why did I make this jump away from the familiar, and risk that fan base?

There are two answers. One was intentional, the other was organic.

daughter-of-redwinter.jpg?resize=195%2C3Firstly, The Raven’s Mark trilogy was sold and marketed as Grimdark (despite the fact that every book in the series is solved by the power of love or friendship, the bad guys are pretty clear cut from page one, and unlike some Grimdark fare, the good guys generally win). But that trilogy published between 2017 and 2019. By mid-2018 I could see that for publishers, the Grimdark bubble was beginning to burst. The market was heavily saturated, and the world around us seemed to be growing less bright and hopeful (honestly I feel that every year since 2016 I’ve said “Surely things get better this year?” and have been proved dismally wrong).

Don’t get me wrong, many Grimdark books still sell well, but you’ll notice the tag has all but vanished from publishing. It became apparent to me that to write and publish a second series, I needed to do something to escape a term that was becoming a pair of concrete boots, lest my chance to maintain relevance sank into the depths with “One Trick Author” stamped across my forehead.

So consciously, I wanted to move away from Grimdark, but I also wanted to write something different for my own sake – three books of gritty apocalypse was enough. Perhaps there’s an element of wanting to be more than a one trick pony, too. I wrote false start after false start. I received offers to publish 2 of them based on partials, but I wasn’t happy with them. I just didn’t like what I was writing. So I turned down the deals and kept typing. I wrote another 100,000 word novel that I simply put in the bin, a 50k Arthurian-druid type story that I became disinterested in, and a kind of fantasy-coliseum Hunger Games. Nothing was clicking.

And then I discovered Raine, entirely by accident.

Lying on a lilo staring up at the perfect, azure French sky, feeling utterly bereft and miserable because my muses seemed to have gone off to drink horse piss at the Grimdark-tavern, I figured I’d look over some old stories. And so I picked up the original trunked Redwinter, which I’d completed in 2012, and had a side hustle as a door stop at 280,000 words. It was about a young man called Fal, a thinly veiled version of my 18 year old self. Now, Fal was a total cringe-lord. I started attempting a total rewrite of his self-indulgent nonsense, and as I did, Raine started telling me to ditch him and write her instead. As I wrote, she practically demanded to take over the story. I hesitated, but after three days considering it, I let her onto the page.

But wait. We’ve missed a bit.

As all this was going on, there was a pandemic. My girlfriend and I had decided to trial what it was like to live together for three weeks, so I packed a hand luggage sized suitcase, and arrived on the Sunday. A few days later the news came: we were locked down. Nobody could go anywhere. And so my partner and I were stuck together for about six months. There wasn’t all that much to do, stuck together 24 hours per day, quite unexpectedly. And so we talked.

We talked about everything. Our whole lives were unfurled to one another like a rolled out scroll. We talked late into the night, we talked early morning, we talked and talked, and we wrote. And somewhere along that journey of discovery, Raine formed. She doesn’t represent any individual person, but she was crafted from the feelings behind countless stories, some mine, some not, some that belong to neither of us. She wasn’t an initial idea; Raine evolved as I did.

There’s a lot of anger in Daughter of Redwinter. Anger for the way people are treated. Anger over social injustice. Anger over the downright unfairness of practically everything in the world, really. But there’s also compassion, and hope, and if I managed to get it right, understanding. And so as Raine became the story, so too the story became her. One of the starkest differences between Galharrow’s adventures in The Raven’s Mark and Raine’s in The Redwinter Chronicles is the character voice, and since it’s all first person, the character’s perception is the story. 

The real kicker? I don’t think that it’s any less dark than The Raven’s Mark stories were. If anything, Raine sometimes has a bleaker outlook on the world. Life is hard for young people, especially when your childhood ends too soon and you’re flung into a world of adults.

The mud-smeared, horse-piss tavern days of the Grimdark tag being the dominant marketing tool for publishers may be over, but its impact on modern fantasy remains. The genre has evolved, taking the best of Grimdark – the gritty realism, the more mature look at societal issues, the blurred lines between right and wrong – and it has taken another step. It’s my hope that Raine and her world can be part of that movement, and she’ll find a place in your heart (and on your book shelf).


Ed-Mcdonald.jpeg?resize=180%2C270&ssl=1Ed McDonald studied ancient history at the University of Birmingham and holds an MA in medieval history from the University of London. He lives and works in London, is a keen martial artist and specializes in the Italian longsword. Learn more at edmcdonaldwriting.com.

Daughter of Redwinter is the first title in The Redwinter Chronicles and is out now from Gollancz. You can find a copy HERE







The post A Change is as good as a Severed Head – GUEST POST by Ed McDonald appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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