I had sent out several Advanced Review Copies (ARC) of Destiny’s War to professional reviewers before publishing. One of the more challenging issues I face is how will the book (series) be received; is it well written, is it of interest, are there errors, will people even like it? As you can imagine, you create something, vested your time and energy, and if others do not enjoy, it can certainly be a blow to your self-esteem.
The truth is, I wrote Destiny’s War for my son (legacy). Art, music, architecture, literature, and many of the fantastic creative works are lasting legacies. When I read Cervantes, I imagine, did he ever think a person four hundred years later in a country that did not exist during his time would be reading his book? It is the same with music and art. Destiny’s War has been a part of me for almost three decades, now I have produced the work in the physical world for others to (hopefully) enjoy.
I planned to publish a limited hardcover edition and gift it to my son and close friends. The intention was not to write for a consumer audience, but a small circle of friends to be past down as a legacy. TE Lawrence, who is undoubtedly an inspiration, ironically similarly wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom as a very limited run, many of them gifted to friends. It was not until the need for money that the abridged mass-produced Revolt in the Desert was published, of which TE Lawrence was disappointed by. Not that I was planning on walking in his footsteps, I also do not have a motorcycle, but I appreciated what he had done and perhaps why. In some ways, I believe Seven Pillars of Wisdom, in its inception, was something he needed to do for himself, and in that, I feel I had initially embarked on a similar path.
However, I digress. The story needs spit and polish, and I decided, why not jump feet first into the self-publishing arena. However, before I take that dip into the deep end of the pool, it was suggested by someone far wiser than myself in these matters to take a breath, do not rush, send out some review copies to professional reviewers and be ready for some criticism.
Professional and editorial reviews, while many believe reviews are for the sole purpose of helping sell your novel, offer a far more critical value to gleam. As my wise friend said, a professional review will also point out potential issues that can be corrected before going to press. A critical “bad” review is sometimes worth far more than a “good” review, if one can be humble and willing to make some changes.
It was such criticism from the two professional reviews, which gave me pause. Their criticism was the heavily footnoted manuscript. In fiction, it is infrequent to have footnotes, but I believed they were necessary for the historical fiction I had written that covered two historical periods. The suggestion was to remove the footnotes and make them endnotes, while providng an index and glossary, which is precisely what I did (another month of work). It was good advice, for the reader, it provides an uninterrupted flow in the story.
For those interested, the book is still available for free before releasing at NetGalley for early reviewers.
So, enough of my babbling, on with the reviews.
McAvoy’s Book Review
Part 1: Saladin’s Secret
Release Date: Jan 2020
I love reading about turn of the 20th century British military camaraderie – the stiff upper lip and “golden age of cricket”, and Pyram King’s language in this respect is a delight. It feels authentic and quintessentially English. This short book – the first in a series – is adapted fiction from the real diaries of Francis Marion Jäger, an American journalist sent to Syria in World War One, to join the British forces fighting against the Turks and Arab mercenaries of the Ottoman Empire, to report for an English newspaper. Seemingly the person with the most local knowledge there, he writes beautifully (as Marion) about the soldiers and officers making the best of things in a strange, formidable environment, with all their cultural and colonial ignorances, whilst none of them seem really sure who or what they are fighting for.
There are two halves to this book. For the most part, it is a dialogue-led account, chronicling the day-to-day of the bewildered, yet arrogant British soldiers – there are more than slight shades of Journey’s End about it (the play, not the film), and hints toward Lawrence of Arabia, which is clearly a great influence. Midway, however, the book changes tone somewhat, as the Brits are brought sharply down to earth by a brutally violent melee, hitting home the reality of war, particularly against such a misunderstood foe. The mythical story of Saladin’s dagger takes a while to emerge and doesn’t really manifest; the theme of this book is more predominantly an educated historical reference to the ways of the Bedouins and the region; the foil of which is the blissful ignorance of their British opponents.
There is an immense amount of resource referencing throughout the book, and an entire section devoted to it in the book’s last quarter. The author deserves huge credit purely for the work he has put into this – so much so, that the storyline is rendered somewhat instrumental – giving superb credibility and testimony to the book’s non-fiction aspect. King is a superb author, his eloquence, research and cultural understanding shining through every line, word and paragraph of this wonderful book. As well as displaying his excellent qualities, Destiny’s War contains some beautiful charcoal drawings, taken from Marion’s very own original diary. As a whole, this book is well crafted and exceptionally presented; it is undoubtedly a piece of work of the highest quality, by a professional author with hugely impressive credentials, and I do recommend it highly – particularly for those with an interest in history and the Ottoman conflict of the first world war. I look forward to the second installment with great interest.
Midwest Book Review
Part 1: Saladin’s Secret
Release Date: Jan 2020
The first book in the historical fantasy series Destiny’s War opens with the advent of the First World War that affects all the empires on the planet, appearing as a series of adventures that operate as independent novellas and stand-alone contributions to the greater story.
Events are narrated through the diaries and perspective of teen Francis Marion Jäger, who weaves together two worlds: the Great War of the early twentieth century, and the ancient world. Saladin’s Secret introduces this war and the mystery of Saladin’s secret.
It’s rare to see a historical fantasy piece so thoroughly rooted in actual historical events, even for an alternate history piece such as this. Pyram King’s meticulous research into the culture and sects of the Middle East and the theater of World War 1 (which is, surprisingly, much less covered in historical surveys of the times) provides much insights into Saladin, Templars, Sinān, Kahn, and more.
Maps, footnoted references to historical facts, and discussions of World War 1 experience blend fiction and fact with a special flair for detail that captures an unusual ‘you are there’ feel: “The acrid stink of gunpowder fills my nose, and makes my eyes water. My lungs are raw. My ears ring, muting the cracks of gunfire and screams. I am unable to process what is happening; I have no muscle memory for battle. I stand, frozen, staring at the man I have just shot.”
And this is the second powerful note to Destiny’s War: its ability to capture, through the eyes and experiences of a young man, the “thin line between life and death” and the moral and ethical choices that stem from war and life-changing battles.
As Mare navigates both battles and mysteries of the Middle East, readers are treated to a tense, gripping series of encounters that contrast military encounters with his growing realization of the power of an ancient artifact to change everything. As the ancient war’s aftermath begins to shadow his own experiences and involvement in battles, Mare comes to recognize a far greater purpose to his life, bringing readers into an arena packed with cloaked enemies and cults.
Describing Destiny’s War: Saladin’s Secret as an alternative history alone would be somewhat of a disservice. Few alternative histories hold such exacting detail about past and present events; most don’t add footnoted research, maps, and illustrations to the story; and few hold the ability to pair the paradigm-changing world of a young adventurer with the realities of war and secrets of the past.
Think a solid historical piece paired with an Indiana Jones-style adventure and toss in some historical fantasy devices to get an idea of the flavor and absorbing read that is Destiny’s War: Saladin’s Secret. It’s a vivid work highly recommended for alternative history fantasy fans who like more than a light dose of real-world history in the mix.
Note – the review will be published in the December 2019 Midwest Book Review