In this first of what I hope will become a series of regular posts introducing aspects of mine and Michael Wills's new novel The Black River Chronicles: Level One, I'd like to start off by talking a little about some of the more important members of the book's rather sprawling cast:
"It means you're not trying. It means you're going to be the last of us to level up. It means that I don't know what you're up to and I don't care, but you're not going to stop me doing what I came here to do." - Tia
For as long as he can remember, Durren has wanted to leave home and become a trainee ranger - and that's precisely what he's done. The only problem is that Durren has a very large secret, and because of that secret he's doing everything he can not to draw attention to himself. Until now that's been only a minor problem, but as he finds himself made part of a party of adventurers, with any hope of success relying on all four of them pulling their weight, he quickly realizes that feigning mediocrity is a recipe for exactly the kind of disaster he's been trying to avoid. And even that's ignoring the fact that the secret he's so desperate to hide is bound to catch up with him sooner or later...
Areinelimus Ironheart Thundertree
"And look what I did! Those poor people. For all we know, I burned their whole village down." - Arein
On the face of it, Arein is hardly the ideal party member. For one thing, she's a Dwarf and Dwarves are notoriously unmagical, producing wizards at roughly a rate of one a generation. And for another she's so crippled by her fear of using magic, knowing that doing so undermines the reality-altering cosmic phenomenon called the Unbalance, that she needs a great deal of persuasion to consider casting a spell at all. But her companions steadily learns that Arein's virtues have more to do with who she is than what she can do. Kind-hearted, brave and colossally stubborn, Arein soon becomes the party's heart and conscience - even when they'd much rather she just shut up and stop asking difficult questions.
"Hule says we storm in and take the treasure." - Hule
Born among folk who consider punching a quicker and more efficient mode of communication than talking, everything you could ever need to know about fighter Hule is summed up in the fact that he insists on referring to himself by his own first name. Or is it? Could anyone really be as stupid as Hule seems to be? Given his proclivity for rushing headlong into danger and picking fights at the worst possible moments, the answer just might be yes.
"This is what you always do! You decide on a plan, you go off on your own, and you couldn't care less what the rest of us are doing in the meantime." - Durren
Arrogant, peremptory and totally intolerant of the failings of others, its nevertheless hard to criticise Elfen rogue Tia, because she genuinely is more capable than the rest of her companions put together. Her approach of attempting quests single-handedly drives Durren to distraction - just as his habit of refusing to try his best does her - but the worst of it is that she generally succeeds. And it soon becomes apparent that the only thing between Tia and a stellar career at Black River is the fact that the rest of her party are holding her back. That leaves her with a choice: keep on the way she has been and risk never reaching level two or try her hand at the one task that her skills are hopelessly unsuited for: fixing her broken party.
"Here you are, my young adventurers! It seems an age since last we were together. Have you missed each others' company? Have you craved a chance to prove your worth?" - Cullglass
After their first mentor quits on them in disgust at the disaster that is their debut quest, storesmaster Lyruke Cullglass steps in to fill the breach: a fresh addition to the academy's mentoring staff, he's specifically said that he's seeking a challenge. In that sense, at least, Cullglass is a perfect fit for Durren, Tia, Arein and Hule. And since the storesmaster is notoriously eccentric and proves surprisingly sympathetic to their problems, he may really be just the person to help the party put aside their differences. On the other hand, just about everyone at Black River has their secrets, and Lyruke Cullglass is no exception.
"Often in life you will be called upon to work with others whose abilities differ from but complement your own. Fail to do so and you'll be of no use to anyone, not even yourselves." - Borgnin
The second-youngest head tutor the Black River academy has ever had, Adocine Borgnin takes his role and the responsibilities that go with it immensely seriously, and has no tolerance for students who defy the rules or fail to pull their weight - a fact that inevitably puts him on a collision course with Durren. But when events raise difficult questions about the nature of the quests they're being sent on, the party begin to wonder if even the academy's prestigious head tutor is everything he seems.
"Pootle was the name of a rock-slug I had when I was little." - Arein
And if that's whetted your interest to get to know these characters better then you can grab a copy of The Black River Chronicles: Level One at Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.All adventuring parties are accompanied by the magical creatures known as observers - basically sentient, floating, disembodied eyeballs - to make sure that they don't get into too much trouble. However, not all parties have someone like Arein to give their observers names and adopt them as pets.