The King Rolen’s Kin trilogy is an action-adventure fantasy series released in July, August and September 2010. The King’s Bastard is the first book in the King Rolen’s Kin trilogy by Rowena Cory Daniells. While a lot can be said about topics such as the style of action-adventure writing in The King’s Bastard or how it relates to other fantasy novels, what follows will be focused on technical aspects of the writing, illustrated by an excerpt from the novel. This is not an exhaustive look at every aspect of the excerpt or the novel but an introduction to a range of technical aspects.
His cry broke her trance and she focused on him, eyes brilliantly black despite great age. Wheezing with the effort, she leant down to scoop up her staff, muttering. ‘Pah. The boy thinks he knows better!’
Byren stiffened. He was no boy. He’d killed his first warrior at fifteen and he’d been leading raids against upstart warlords since he was seventeen.
The staff connected with his head.
‘Hey!’ he protested.
‘Silence, and listen. Boy you are, and boy you’ll be until you learn to lead your people along the right path. But what is right? Right by might? Right by law? Right by tradition? Or is right a matter of perception?’
He stared, unable to make sense of her babble. As if he couldn’t tell right from wrong!
He shook himself. First things first. Check on Orrade.
The excerpt, like the rest of the novel, is written in third person perspective. That is, the narrator does not use the word “I” and refer to the narrator’s own experience of events (first person) and does not use the word “you” and address the reader (second person) but uses ‘he/she’ and his/her’ to refer to the experiences of other characters.
This excerpt, like the rest of the novel, is written in past tense. That is, events are described as if they happened in the past; not as if they are happening now or as if they will happen in the future.
This excerpt, like the rest of the novel, has an external narrator. That is, the events are described as if the narrator is not a character in the fictional story world with the other characters but describes events in that fictional world. An internal narrator would also be a character in the fictional story world.
Some people use the term diegesis to mean fictional story world, but diegesis is also used to mean a fictional world created by a dialogue or by words and can be used in various ways which go beyond the straightforward idea of a fictional story world. Diegetically, an internal narrator would be diegetic or intra-diegetic and an external narrator would be non-diegetic or extra-diegetic.
Description of Action
This is fairly self-explanatory: the narrator describes what happens in the fictional story world. For example, “His cry broke her trance and she focused on him”.
Descriptive Judgment or Evaluation
While a straightforward description of action is told as if the narrator had fictionally observed and described something that happened in the fictional story world, a descriptive judgment or evaluation involves an aspect that is a matter of opinion. For example, describing a character as having “eyes brilliantly black despite great age” is at least partially a matter of opinion. The eyes have been described as black and the character as having great age, but to describe the eyes as “brilliantly” black is a matter of opinion. Brilliance is an abstract idea that cannot be observed like the elderly appearance of the character or the black appearance of her eyes.
This is fairly self-explanatory. Character speech is a quotation of what a fictional character says. For example, “‘Pah. The boy thinks he knows better!’”
Often there is both character speech and character thought in a fictional story.
Character thought is usually expressed as though it were speech that is not spoken allowed. This internal speech or thought report expressed in words is a convenient way to express the basic gist of thought through written prose (but this does not imply or confirm anything about the nature of human thought outside of a written description of thought, such as some form of idea that thought is purely based in words or writable language). An example of character thought in the excerpt is, “First things first. Check on Orrade.” This is an example of something a person or character may or may not sub-vocalise in their head – that is, they may or may not think those words to themself – but writing it as if they do is a convenient way to express the basic gist of their thought in writing. Rowena Cory Daniells has italicised character thoughts, which allows them to be easily identified as character thoughts rather than judgments or evaluations of the narrator. This kind of clear separation of the thoughts of characters in the fictional story world and the fictional thoughts of the narrator helps to reduce or avoid ambiguity over which fictional character thinks what. An example from the excerpt which could be potentially ambiguous is, “Byren stiffened. He was no boy. He’d killed his first warrior at fifteen and he’d been leading raids against upstart warlords since he was seventeen.” It could be argued that the second and third sentences might be the narrator’s description of the character’s thoughts or that they are the narrator’s own evaluation based on the character’s physical posture and knowledge of the character’s past. Of course, either way the sentences are ultimately made up by the author. In cases of potential ambiguity there is no set of rules to follow that will always determine the right answer for all writers. You have to use your own judgment about what would make sense in the context of that particular story and it’s author (and whether it’s all that important).
Rowena Cory Daniells uses italics in several different ways in the excerpt:
1) To indicate the inflection of a character’s speech. In the sentence “‘Boy you are, and boy you’ll be until you learn to lead your people along the right path.’” the word boy is italicized to indicate the character’s emphasis on that word in the inflection of her speech.
2) To indicate onomatopoeia, when a word is used in place of a sound, as in “Thwack!”.
3) To indicate character thought, as mentioned above with “First things first. Check on Orrade.”.
You may have come up with further ideas about the excerpt that are not covered here. Below is another excerpt for you to consolidate some of your ideas by reading it with them in mind, whether covered here or ideas you have come up with yourself.
For some reason Byren didn’t want to mention the old seer. ‘Drove it off, but a falling branch clipped the back of your head. You’re lucky your skull’s thick.’ Best to keep him talking. ‘We’re trapped Orrie. An ulfr pack have pinned us on the edge of a cliff.’
‘Build a fire.’
Byren blinked. Orrade’s body was in the shadow of Byren’s body, but ruddy fire light gleamed on his friend’s hands where they clutched the cloak to his chest.
Fear settled in the pit of Byren’s belly. The old seer said Orrade would never be the same. Had she meant he’d be blind?
Like a three-day-old kitten, Orrade forced his eyes open and peered around. ‘No stars to aid us tonight, just when we could have done with -‘
‘Orrie the stars are bright enough to cast shadows and, if I move, you’ll feel the fire’s heat on your face.’
Those sightless eyes travelled to his face, following the sound of his voice. It was uncanny, but he was still blind.
He heard the fear in Orrade’s voice, the unspoken don’t leave me.
More on Rowena Cory Daniells can be found on the King Rolen’s Kin website, including an article on inspiration for the King Rolen’s Kin trilogy, articles on writing craft and a video trailer for The King’s Bastard.
The Australian Literature Review