Gamebook store

Monday, 15 February 2016

The Chronicles of the Magi

A lot of people said that the Blood Sword series would make great novels, so in 1997 I took the plunge and revisited the gamebooks in order to convert them into regular fiction. If I'd anticipated the writing being a cakewalk - just a cut-n-paste job, right? - it only took a few days to demolish that notion. I needed to add a lot of text, for one thing, because in between the options in a gamebook there's an implied train of thought process and action that is left entirely to the reader's (ie player's) imagination. For a novel all that has to go onto the page.

And then there was the little question of a protagonist - or two. I rejected having a complete party of adventurers. I didn't want it to feel like a game write-up, for one thing. These were supposed to be proper novels, and having too many characters tends to throw a story out of focus. You've seen X-Men: The Last Stand, you know what I'm talking about. In the end I imported my own character Caelestis, a Vancean rogue who had appeared briefly in Tim Harford's Legend campaign, but on realizing that he was too much of a reprobate to serve as standalone lead in a middle grade series I created a "warrior monk" character (a sort of Capellar-in-training, I guess) called Altor who could come out with all the traditionally heroic lines.

A few weeks into the writing, I accepted Ian Livingstone's offer of a job as game designer at Domark (later Eidos Interactive) which made writing the Chronicles of the Magi trilogy a bit of a juggling act. I enjoyed it, though. Solving problems is my thing, and every scene threw up plenty of those. For instance, to get around the way the first Blood Sword book was really detached from the rest, being effectively a gameplay tutorial, I moved the opening scene of The Kingdom of Wyrd to the start of the first Chronicles novel. That got us right into the quest - though with rather more plot-twists along the way than the gamebooks needed to have. Here's (almost) the moment our two heroes first meet:
Altor reached for the banner, but just then there came a loud outcry from the far side of the square. He looked up to see the young dandy he had encountered earlier. His cloak swept out behind him like a bat’s wings as he ran, and hot on his heels were several guardsmen of the night watch.
‘Stop that thief!’ bawled the irate sergeant of the guards as the young man came racing past the booth.
Altor stepped forward without thinking and put out one arm. The dandy skidded to a halt in front of him and glanced up in surprise. For an instant their eyes locked, and Altor saw a look not of panic but of agile cunning. Then the young man ducked under his outstretched arm and reached for the last pennant. Altor lunged for it too. They both gripped the shaft at the same time.
The guardsmen pounded to a halt and began to fan out. ‘So, villain,’ gasped the sergeant, ‘will you come quietly?’
The dandy looked at him in disdain. ‘Villain, you say? I am Caelestis, the champion of Magus... of Magus...’
He turned to Altor who, although bewildered by the turn of events, found himself saying, ‘Magus Balhazar.’
‘Champion?’ The sergeant tucked his thumbs in his belt and rocked with breathless laughter. ‘You’re no champion, lad. You’re just a pickpocket and I’m taking you in.’
Caelestis stared back at him defiantly. The other guards hefted their cudgels and stood glowering. For a moment there was a tense silence, then the steward cleared his throat. ‘The youngster’s right. You can’t arrest him now he’s taken Magus Balhazar’s banner.’
Altor suddenly realized what was happening. Tugging the banner away from Caelestis, he said, ‘I was here first. Rightfully it is I who should be Magus Balhazar’s champion.’
‘Aha!’ cried the sergeant in triumph. ‘As I thought. Arrest him.’
Two of the guardsmen stepped closer. Caelestis wove away from them and snatched back the banner. ‘Not so fast. The banner is mine. How can this oaf be the magus’s champion? He doesn’t even have a weapon.’
It was true. Altor had left his sword buried in Magus Byl’s black heart. Rather than go into that now, he simply planted himself in a solid stance with his big arms folded across his chest. ‘I need no weapons. The monks of my order are trained to fight with empty hands if need be.’
‘Indeed?’ Caelestis cocked an eyebrow. ‘I doubt whether Magus Balhazar will be impressed.’
Altor snorted in derision. ‘Do you think he’ll be impressed by having a pickpocket as his champion?’
The sergeant flung up his arms in exasperation. ‘Enough!’ He turned to the steward. ‘What is the law? Are both these youths now employed by Magus Balhazar? Frankly I’d be happy to arrest the pair of them.’
‘I have committed no crime!’ protested Altor.
‘And I myself am merely a suspect,’ added Caelestis, ‘until my case comes to trial.’
The steward leaned on the rail in front of his booth and stroked his beard thoughtfully. ‘Both took the banner at the same time, so both are eligible to serve the magus. Consequently they are immune from prosecution.’
At this the guards gave sighs of disappointment and started to wander off. The sergeant spat on the ground to show his opinion of the steward’s judgement. Fixing Caelestis with a beady stare, he said, ‘Just you wait, lad. I’ll be waiting outside the Battlepits for you, and if you fail then you won’t be able to count on the magus’ protection.’
‘If he fails,’ said the steward laconically, ‘then he’ll be past caring about the laws of mortal men.’

The Chronicles of the Magi books are due to be republished on Kindle by Fabled Lands LLP at the end of the month and you can pre-order them now at a special introductory price:

The Sword of Life
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon Spain

The Kingdom of Dreams
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon Spain

The City of Stars
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon Spain

13 comments:

  1. Well you learn something new everyday. I had the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf novels, never knew you'd done same with Bloodsword. Should have read your Amazon page in more detail. I'll buy the originals second hand assuming a print version won't be on its way any time soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andy, the new print versions should be along in about a month - though if you can pick up the originals those are probably worth more.

      Delete
    2. Same for me Andy. Ill be picking up these when you publish them Dave. Looking forward to getting them :)

      Delete
    3. I'll run another post when the print versions are available, guys.

      Delete
    4. Great, will hang fire Dave. I remember giving away my Lone Wolf novels, to then discover E-Bay a few weeks later and realise what a bad business decision that was. I went back to rebuy them, but only half were still there and when I peeled off the price stickers they'd put on, the covers came off with them. You can still possibly hear my "nnnOOOOOOOOOOOooooo" resonating.

      Delete
  2. Pre-ordered in a heartbeat.

    Of course filling in the blanks with your imagination was the best things about gamebooks, but I did enioy those Lone Wolf novelizations back in the day. Your Chronicles of the Magi were never translated to Italian as far as I know, but now I get the chance to read them on Kindle and my English is leagues ahead than when I was 12, so I have no excuses. Great news!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Efrem - hope you enjoy them. I was going to turn my interactive version of Frankenstein into a novel too, on the grounds that it filled in a lot of the narrative (particularly Victor's puruit of the monster into the Arctic) that Mrs Shelley skimmed over. But that process of filling in the blanks between option and decision would have added another 50,000 words at least. Maybe one day...

      Delete
  3. Does that mean you've got the original cover artwork back?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure Kevin would be happy to let us use it, but the chance of the original paintings showing up in his attic is pretty slim. We were lucky he still had the FL cover triptychs. So for the new editions of Chronicles of the Magi I'm going to use some Creative Commons paintings by a chap named Mehmet Canli. They're not designed for the stories, obviously, but as standard fantasy art they look pretty good.

      Delete
  4. Nice piece of writing Dave but I feel I have to point out you are taking longer than GRRM to finish this series ; )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a bad role-model for a fantasy author, though, you have to admit, John :-)

      Delete
    2. Agreed ! Don't let HBO distract you from the day job if they option the series though ...

      Delete