THE WOUNDED ONES by G.D. Penman
Book 2 in the WITCH OF EMPIRE series
RELEASE DATE: 6/23/20
GENRE: Urban Fantasy / LGBTQ / Detective
Demons and serial killers are Iona “Sully” Sullivan’s bread and butter, but nothing could have prepared her to face off against the full weight of the British Empire at the height of its power. With the War for American Independence in full swing, she finds even her prodigious talents pushed beyond their limits when citizens of the American Colonies begin vanishing amidst rumors of crop circles, hydra sightings and worse. Through a wild and lethal adventure that will see her clashing with the Empire around the world and beyond, the only constants in Sully’s life are an undead girlfriend, a giant demon crow that has taken a shine to her, regular assassination attempts by enemies on all sides, and the cold certainty that nothing and nobody is going to make it out of the war in one piece.
The Thing I Hate About Urban Fantasy
So here’s the thing I hate about urban fantasy: Everything is the same.
I don’t mean that the genre is flooded with derivative copies of whatever happens to be selling best at any given moment although, this is publishing, so that is a given; I mean that despite there being dragons, wizards, vampires, ghost, ghouls, goblins and inexplicably shirtless men who clearly work out a lot all over the place the actual worlds where these stories take place are almost invariable our world with a little bit of supernatural window dressing.
I get it. I’ve written enough secondary world fantasy where you have to puzzle over whether you can use the word “bull-headed” because cows don’t technically exist in your setting to know that writing in a familiar world is infinitely easier than cobbling one together yourself. Plus, the reader is instantly comfortable. Readers can fill in the blanks on anything that you don’t describe because there is an assumption that if you don’t hear that werewolves now run every bodega in town then things are the same as our world. Urban fantasy is like putting on an old comfortable pair of shoes that you know fit well.
Which I guess makes epic fantasy winkle-pickers or something? This analogy is getting away from me.
I completely understand it, I get the appeal, you should be ashamed of yourselves, it is lazy.
Alternate history stories, at their most basic, are “for want of a nail.” You change one minor facet of historical events and the ripple effects spread out and change everything. A messenger does not arrive on time. A chef fails to fully debone a fish. Franz Ferdinand doesn’t decide to go for a drive around town after an assassination attempt. Gavrilo Princip doesn’t go to his favourite sandwich shop after failing to assassinate Franz Ferdinand with bombs. You get the picture. Butterfly effect, ripples, etc.
Of course, small scale change gets a bit boring, so Alternate History writers nowadays tend to hew away from missing nails and more towards “what if aliens showed up” or “what if ducks could shoot lasers” – you know, standard speculative fiction questions – and then extrapolate their changes from there.
But Urban Fantasy doesn’t have a branching point where history is changed. The alternate world of gremlins who are attractive men without shirts has always had attractive gremlin men without shirts. They are not a new development, about to derail history, they are history.
If wanting for a nail can completely change the world into a completely new configuration, I’m fairly confident that sexy shirtless chupacabra running around since our caveman days would have a more significant impact. The fact that the worlds of urban fantasy even vaguely resemble ours is remarkable. Unless every major and minor historical figure has been inexplicably immune to chupacabra bites, you have something worse than a plot hole; you’ve got a setting hole. A black hole that can swallow up the entirety of my suspension of disbelief.
Can I read a book about sexy were-badgers and accept the existence of sexy were-badgers? Absolutely.
Can I believe that they don’t need to get planning permission to dig a burrow under their house? Hell no.
So when I sat down to write my very own urban fantasy, with witches, demons and other things that go bump in the night, I knew that things were going to be different, but familiar. The dirt beneath our feet would be the same, but the nations built on top of that dirt were going to be shaped by history, and that history had to account for magic.
THE WOUNDED ONES, Witch of Empire Book 2 is out June 23rd from Meerkat Press
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
G.D. Penman is the author of the Strata Online and Witch of Empire series, the ghostwriter of more than 50 books, and a freelance game designer. A firm believer in the axiom that any story is made better with the addition of dragons, he is fulfilling his destiny as an overweight bearded white man by pursuing a career as a fantasy author. In “real life” he lives in Scotland with his partner, children, dog and cats. Just . . . so many cats.
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Sully stubbed out her cigar like the ashtray was her mother’s face. The last coils of smoke twisted in the air to join the geometric patterns that drifted in a blue cloud around her. There were three assassins this time, and three weren’t nearly enough. Sully set her glass down on the bar and let the mouthful of gin clear her sinuses. After an hour of quietly sipping liquor in the stuffy walnut paneled comfort of the train’s bar, Sully’s patience had run thin. The young men in three-piece suits might have blended in perfectly back in jolly old England, but here in the Americas, their blandness made them stick out.
Sully swiveled on her stool to take in the lay of the room. “Are we doing this or not? Because I’ve got a thirsty vampire waiting for me back in my cabin and that sounds like a lot more fun than this bullshit.”
The men had been studiously avoiding eye contact with Sully and with each other for the whole trip, but now they all looked up, as if they needed to confirm that their cover was blown before acting. Amateurs. Sully set off the concussion spell that she had been tracing in gin on the bar-top for the last ten minutes, spellfire racing over the liquor. The whole carriage rocked on its rails, and bottles and glasses flew through the air, a maelstrom of chaos that Sully’s contingency shield turned into a whirling dervish of shattered glass around her. All three assassins were moving now, leaping up from their tables and casting their own spells, but they were two moves behind her.
Her next spell seared the broken glass around her, sending molten droplets across the red carpet on their way to scorch half of one assassin’s face off. The other men switched to casting shields and that delay gave her enough time to cast a more complex incantation. The next lance looked like white fire, and while the blond killer managed to get a shield up, the white flames used that dense structured magic as fuel, expanding out to consume him, leaving nothing behind but a heap of ash.
The last one got an attack off before Sully could give him her undivided attention. A ray of moonlight was launched from his fingertip, refracting through the spinning glass to pepper the whole room with patches of frost.
Sully let out a bark of laughter. “You’re trying to take me alive? They really didn’t give you fair warning when you took this job.”
A new spell exploded in a corona around him, a nova of silvery blades that shredded what was left of the upholstery as they flew at Sully. Apparently, this one wanted to live more than he wanted big cash prizes. Sully dove into a booth as the blades and glass collided in a deafening, stinging explosion all around her. He didn’t let up. A roiling wave of green fire swept through the cabin, stripping the walls to bare metal, annihilating the furnishings and reducing the cowering bartender to a stripped skeleton. Sully did her best to ignore the strange absence of heat as the fire rolled over her shields and concentrated on the task at hand.
She rose to her feet on the bare metal of the hollowed-out cabin. The assassin wasn’t smiling despite his change in fortune. Maybe he was a professional after all. She launched another white lance at him and he didn’t bother with a shield. His duelist instincts took over and he cast a traveling spell to jerk him out of the missile’s path. It didn’t work. The white fire hit him square in the chest. He vanished in a flash of light as his own magic consumed him from the inside out.
Sully staggered to her feet and let her protective spells drop. She took a deep breath of the fresh air that was pouring in through the new ventilation that her would-be killers had provided to the cabin. If portals and traveling spells hadn’t been blocked by the Magi of Manhattan, then why would she have been on a train to begin with? The British really needed to hire smarter help. The last few assassination attempts had been almost insultingly lackluster.