Archive | December, 2020

She-Ra And The Princesses of Power Overall Review

30 Dec

I find it hard to put my feelings regarding She-Ra and the Princesses of Power into words because, in many ways, they depend on points of view.  The final season was not a bad season, unlike – for example – Battlestar Galactica – but, at the same time, it represented something of an abandonment of its previous concept.  The show expanded to the point it could handle an ensemble cast, yet this weakened many of the characters.  Indeed, the whole thing was let down – to some extent – by several characters grabbing the idiot ball in quick succession.

Originally, the core of the series centred on Adora and Catra, who grew up together as Horde Cadets in the Fright Zone.  They were both subjected to abuse by Shadow Weaver, their surrogate mother, who expected Adora to be a hyper-perfect cadet and, at the same time, piled Catra with physical and verbal abuse.  By the time we are introduced to them, the damage has been done.  Adora feels responsible for everything, while Catra – blamed for everything – feels permanently trapped in Adora’s shadow (and responsible for nothing).

Their paths diverge when Adora finds the Sword of Protection, becomes She-Ra, meets Glimmer and Bow and joins the Great Rebellion.  Catra, in the meantime, chooses to stay with the Horde (particularly after Hordak gives her the first true appreciation in her entire life).  The first season remains focused on them, with the Best Friend Squad and the Super Pal Trio serving as backup characters.  Team Adora and Team Catra clash repeatedly despite the remnants of Adora and Catra’s former friendship; both characters build up their positions and powers (Catra, in a moment she thoroughly deserves, bests Shadow Weaver for the first time and then comes within a hair’s breathe of total victory).  In a sense, both characters come out ahead.  They both beat Shadow Weaver, then win what they crave (a meaningful life for Adora, power and respect for Catra).

This balancing act starts to fall apart in seasons two and three (which are really one combined season).  As more characters take on significant roles, the two main characters are partly shunted aside.  Worse, the good guys keep winning undeserved victories (one of the less pleasant aspects of the show is the way in which the good guys are so much better than the bad ones, when they use their powers – an odd hint of elitism I don’t like).  It’s difficult to blame Catra for starting a villainous breakdown, particularly as she discovers that being Force Commander (Hordak’s second-in-command) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  And yet, with her being well aware of Shadow Weaver’s true nature, she allows herself to be manipulated far too easily.  Adora, of course, makes the same mistake. 

This is the point where too many characters grab the idiot ball.  Hordak tortures Catra because he’s in a bad mood, not because she deserved punishment.  Catra allows Shadow Weaver to manipulate her, accidently freeing her from prison.  (I’m not including Catra trying to lie to Hordak, because he gave her plenty of reason to think he wouldn’t take the truth very calmly).  Adora heals Shadow Weaver (when she makes it to Bright Moon).  Angelia (who has good reason to know about Shadow Weaver) doesn’t think to fill Glimmer in on the truth.  Adora, Glimmer and Bow set off to the Crimson Wastes without bothering to make any preparations; Adora tells Catra about Shadow Weaver and the Portal.  Catra decides to open the portal, rather than staying in the Wastes with Scorpia and building a kingdom of her own.  Between them, they come pretty close to blowing up the entire planet and Adora had every right to be angry at Catra, but Adora bears some of the blame too.

Season four covers an ever-expanding war between the Horde – now co-led by Catra and Hordak – and the Great Rebellion.  The war extracts a price on its fighters, with Catra and Scorpia having a falling out and Glimmer, Bow and Adora coming ever-closer to a falling out of their own.  Catra makes a serious – but understandable – mistake and loses the war, only to have Glimmer return the planet to the original universe … allowing Horde Prime to invade.  Season five covers the war against Horde Prime, a far more powerful and determined enemy than Hordak (now exposed a defective clone).

It isn’t a bad season, but it’s greatest flaw is that it abandons the Team Adora and Team Catra format.  Characters have switched teams before (Entrapta to Team Catra, Scorpia to Team Adora).  It might have worked better, IMHO, if Glimmer had switched teams and, with Catra and Hordak, found a way to break out of Horde Prime’s custody … allowing Adora and Catra to meet as equals.  The moments we get – Catra risking everything to save Glimmer, Adora returning the favour for Catra – are good, but they’re not good enough.  In a way, they diminish Catra.  It’s nice to see Adora and Catra get together, at the end of the show, but they’re not quite equals. 

Catra is not the only character to be diminished by the ongoing series.  Hordak is introduced to us as a powerful warlord, with a very definite presence.  He’s evil, but he’s not completely unreasonable.  Season two/three weakens that by giving him a sympathetic backstory and partnering him with Entrapta, who eventually ends up in a relationship with him at the very end of the series.  It’s something of a cop-out – Mermista is the only one to ask if Hordak and Entrapta getting away with everything is fine – although, to be fair, he does make a stand against his abusive ‘big brother.’ 

That said, the expanded format does have its upsides.  Scorpia grows and develops as a character, as does Glimmer.  Both Sea Hawk and Swift Wind grew on me, as did many of the lesser characters (King Micah’s attempts to practice fathering on Frosta come across as creepy, particularly as Glimmer is six years or so older than Frosta).  Indeed, Horde Prime is perhaps the only completely irredeemable characters in the series.  Shadow Weaver sacrifices herself to save her daughters, leaving the question of just why she chose to do it.

The show has been both praised and criticised for feminist and lesbian themes.  This is something of a mixed bag.  On one hand, the princesses inherit their power by birth rather than ability (Scorpia may be the only exception, as she’s the one who makes a conscious decision to lay claim to power).  There’s a certain elitism about the show that is only called out once, by villagers caught in the middle during the fifth season.  On the other, Catra – who works for her victories – is also female.  It’s also true that Bow, Sea Hawk and Hordak worked for their skills in a manner  none of the princesses could match.  It’s fair enough to say that the vast majority of the best and the worst people in the series are all female (Horde Prime being the major exception, although he may well be genderless).  How important you consider this to be is up to you.

And while I’m happy to see Adora and Catra wind up together, the relationship wasn’t really developed properly.

Overall, it’s difficult to rate the show.  As an action and adventure cartoon, it does very well (but, to some extent, it becomes more focused on characters than the action.)  As a look into the effects of abuse, it does better; it puts human faces on the abused, much as Anne Frank is a human face on statistics.  At the same time, however, it is quick to absolve too many characters of their mistakes and offers quick solutions rather than more thoughtful (or deserved) answers.  Format wise, you pretty much have to follow from the beginning.  That’s something that, IMHO, should have been rethought.   

On the whole, I enjoyed it.  But it could have been so much more.

Schooled in Magic/General Update

29 Dec

As you know, Little Witches came out just before Christmas (Happy Christmas) and, pretty much immediately afterwards, I finished the first draft of The Right Side of History, which picks up immediately after Little Witches.  I’m hoping to get the eBook out by mid-February, but obviously it depends on editing and cover designing.  After that, my rough plan is to write The Face of the Enemy and Child of Destiny in February and April respectively.  After that …

I do intend to expand The Cunning Man’s Tale (which will be published in Fantastic Schools III) into a full novel, perhaps as the first of a trilogy.  It follows a very different character from Emily –  for starters, he’s not a magician – as Heart’s Eye becomes the home of a steampunk-style world.  I’m scribbling down notes for that, although – as always – I intend the first novel to be fairly stand-alone.  I also intend to continue with the Stuck in Magic serial – I hope you’re enjoying it. 

I do have more story ideas for Emily, so she will be back.  <grin>.

On different books …

Cast Adrift is being looked at by a publisher, but – of course – there’s no guarantee of anything.  If it doesn’t get through the filters, I’ll publish it online and then start writing the squeals. 

Fighting for the Crown (Ark 16) just came out too and I’m scribbling notes to turn the Drake’s Drum concept into an actual plot. 

I have a rough plan for The Prince’s War, which will be the first of a new series following Prince Roland as he kicks ass in the chaos of the dying empire.  I’m not sure, yet, if I should write that one in March or Drake’s Drum.

I’m messing around with other ideas, both fantasy and SF.

One of them is set in the very dawn of empire, in which a star union is bent on reuniting the human race for very good reasons … not, of course, that everyone sees it that way.  The hero would get in serious trouble as he graduates the space academy and, for political reasons, is punished by being promoted to Lt. Commander (he graduated as a LT), given command of a rust-bucket and told to establish law and order in a distant sector.  His enemies think he’ll be blown away (it’s a rubbish ship), find it an impossible task or simply get lost when the time comes for more promotion,

Another – more fantasy than anything else – would follow a princess, the twin sister of the Crown Prince, who escapes her uncle’s clutches when he takes the throne for himself, poses as her brother and raises a rebellion. 

I’ve also been looking at a handful of short stories for the Fantastic Schools set and suchlike.

What do you think I should do first?


OUT NOW – Fighting For The Crown (Ark Royal 16)

28 Dec

HMS Lion and HMS Unicorn have made it home from their first mission against the alien virus, opening the way for humanity to take the offensive.  Now, a major fleet is readying itself to depart into enemy space, intent on smashing the virus’s ability to wage war and destroy the threat once and for all.  And Captains Hammond and Campbell will take the lead.

But humanity itself is buckling under the strain of endless war.  The stresses of fighting are tearing the fleet apart.  And a very personal betrayal threatens to plunge the captains and their crews into a bitter feud, deep in alien territory.  The stakes could not be higher …

… And the risk of total defeat has never been so great.

Read a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase from the following links: Amazon USUKCANAUSDraft2Digital (more links coming, so check back regularly.)

OUT NOW – Little Witches (Schooled in Magic 21)!

23 Dec

Merry Christmas!

The Necromantic Wars are over, but the Allied Lands are unprepared for peace.  In the aftermath of the war, old grudges flare to life.  And, with the White Council scattered, it is only a matter of time before the fragile peace is shattered beyond repair.

In a desperate bid to save what they can, the Allied Lands plan to hold a conference at Laughter Academy.  But all is not well in the witches school.  The girls are growing increasingly reckless, increasingly out of hand, preying on the mundanes below the mountain school as their tutors plot and scheme to take advantage of the chaos.  And no one seems to know why.

Emily is in no condition to intervene.  But when Lady Barb, her former tutor, asks for her help, Emily cannot refuse.  Heading to Laughter, taking up a teaching position, Emily finds herself dragged into a world of schoolgirl games, staffroom politics and a deadly plot aimed at the heart of the Allied Lands themselves …

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase from the links HERE (new links being added as we speak).  Plus, Nanette’s Tale – a semi-prequel – can be found here.


20 Dec

(And Now I’ve Got Your Attention, Vote For Me)

Between 24th December and 26th December, the below books will be free to download from Amazon.  Check out the start of five great series …

The Empire’s Corps

Ark Royal

The Zero Blessing

Storm Front

Outside Context Problem

The Right Side of History Snippet II

7 Dec

I can’t post CH1, because it’s full of spoilers, but here’s the second prologue.

Prologue II

When she’d become Queen, Alassa had instituted a very simple rule.

She was not to be disturbed, she’d told her courtiers, between dinner and supper.  Not unless the matter was urgent.  Truly urgent.  She’d made it clear, and backed it up, that anyone who disturbed her without very good reason would be spending the next week as a frog in the royal frog pond.   It wasn’t something she was proud of, and she was uncomfortably aware she might miss something important because the messenger was reluctant to interrupt her, but it was vitally important for her sanity.  A reigning monarch had so little time to herself that she had to do whatever it took to make sure she got it. 

It irked her, more than she would willingly admit to anyone, that she hadn’t realised just how much her father had to do until she’d inherited his throne.  The king had risen early and worked from dawn till dusk, the men of his bedchamber – his inner councillors – feeling free to interrupt him whenever they pleased.  The one advantage of being a Ruling Queen, Alassa had discovered, was that she didn’t have to keep her inner council so close, but it hadn’t taken king for her courtiers to reason out that they could send their wives, sisters and daughters instead.  Alassa would have preferred to banish them permanently, but there was no way to send them away without causing massive offense.  The last thing she needed was their husbands, brothers and sons plotting revenge.  She had enough troubles already.

She kept her face under tight control until she stepped into her inner bedchamber, then allowed herself to relax as the wards shimmered around her.  It was hard, very hard, not to sag as she leaned against the door.  Winning the war had been easy.  Winning the peace, it seemed, was a great deal harder.  She had to find a balancing point between factions that hated and detested each other, factions that would hate and detest her if she showed the slightest hint of favouritism to their enemies.  It felt as if she was stirring an unstable cauldron, the brew within permanently on the verge of exploding.  There were times when she was honestly tempted to grab her husband and daughter, empty the royal treasury and go into exile.  In hindsight, she wondered how different her life would have been if she’d stayed at Whitehall instead of going back to Zangaria.

Gathering herself, she walked past her daughter’s bedchamber – Princess Emily was sleeping, her nursemaid sitting beside the cot – and into her bedroom.  Jade was seated at the desk, reading the reports from the royal spies.  They’d made sure to pick up the remnants of King Randor’s spy network and build their own, in hopes of preventing another coup or another aristocratic uprising.  Alassa thought she understood, now, why her father had gone mad.  There was never any shortage of disturbing reports, but how many of them were anything more serious than a slighted aristocrat venting to his friends?  She didn’t know.

Jade stood and gave her a hug.  “Bad day?”

“I had Lord Hardin, again,” Alassa said.  It was hard to hide her disgust.  “He wants to marry his ward.”

“Bastard,” Jade agreed.  “Want me to kill him?”

Alassa was tempted.  Lord Hardin had played his cards very well, somehow managing to remain on King Randor’s good side without alienating either the Noblest or Alassa herself.  He’d certainly not taken any part in the civil war, ensuring that he evaded the sanctions Alassa had handed down to her father’s more open supporters.  It helped, she supposed, that Hardin’s territory was right on the edge of the kingdom.  It gave him a ready-made excuse for not sending anything more than thoughts and prayers.  But it also made it hard for her to squash him like he deserved.

She sat on the bed and rubbed her forehead.  Lord Hardin’s ward was too young for a betrothal, let alone a marriage.  And yet, Hardin thought he could bind her to him – and ensure permanent control over her lands – before she grew too old to object.  Alassa allowed herself a flash of cold anger.  She knew how she would have felt, if her father had announced her betrothal before she reached her majority.  It might have been years before the marriage was solemnised, but everyone would have treated it as a done deal from day one.  If she’d had a brother …

“I might need you to go look at her lands, to see how he’s ruling them,” she said.  She hated the idea of sending Jade away for a few days, but there were few people she trusted completely.  And besides, Hardin wouldn’t be fool enough to give Jade a hard time.  If he did … Jade would smash him flat well before word reached Alexis.  “Perhaps even to provoke a fight.”

Jade nodded as he sat next to her.  “How much do you want me to provoke a fight?”

“Only a little,” Alassa said.  She wanted an excuse to take a swing at Hardin – or, at the very least, to park a garrison in his lands – but it had to look legitimate.  “I don’t want to push him so blatantly everyone takes his side.”

She leaned into Jade’s arms, allowing him to hold her tightly.  It was a display of weakness she could never allow herself in front of the court, not when half of them already believed Jade gave her orders in private and the other half thought he should.  Bastards.  It hadn’t been that long since they’d been slated for execution, if they fell into Randor’s hands.  A little gratitude was not too much to expect, was it?  It probably was.  Courtiers had short memories.  And now there was an infant princess, she’d bet her crown that some of them were considering the advantages of having a monarch who couldn’t talk.

And if I die early, she thought, Jade will take Millie and run.

Jade kissed her, lightly.  Alassa lifted her lips to his, enjoying the sensation.  His hands started to roam her body, fiddling with the clasp.  The dress was designed to be difficult to take off in a hurry, something that Alassa had once found a little amusing.  It wasn’t so funny now.  The unmarried ladies of the court might have reason to wear a chastity belt, or something that served the same purpose, but she was a married woman.  And she was the queen …

The wards jangled.  Alassa jumped, swallowing a curse.  Whoever had disturbed her was going to regret it.  Whoever … she reminded herself, sharply, that she needed to hear the messenger out before she did something unspeakable to him.  No one would dare enter her chambers unless it was urgent.  She stood, straightened her dress and gave Jade a meaningful look.  He headed for the secret passage that ran beside the reception room.  King Randor had used it to conceal guards, when holding meetings with untrustworthy aristocrats.  Alassa preferred to use it to allow her husband to listen to the meetings, without making his presence obvious.  It was yet another compromise she’d had to make between what the court expected of her and what she had to do to maintain her sanity.

She raised an eyebrow as she stepped through the door and saw Mouse waiting for her.  The young woman – she was practically a commoner, although her father had been knighted long ago – was loyal.  She had to be loyal.  Alassa had rewarded her for her services by elevating her over the countless noblemen who thought they should be Mistress of the Queen’s Bedchamber.  It had made her enemies, but … Alassa tried not to grimace.  Mouse was loyal to her personally and that was all that mattered.  And besides, she wasn’t anything like as hidebound as the rest of the court.  She didn’t waste time trying to turn her queen into something she wasn’t.

“Your Majesty.”  Mouse curtsied.  Her face was pale, fearful.  “Prince Hedrick has arrived.”

Alassa blinked.  “Prince Hedrick of Alluvia?”

Mouse nodded.  Alassa’s mind raced.  Prince Hedrick had wanted to marry her, years ago.  He’d attended her wedding, but then … she didn’t recall hearing much of anything about him.  Hedrick was a second son.  He wouldn’t be promoted over his brother … hell, there was a very real chance he would be sent into de facto exile.  If he had … why had he come to Zangaria?  Alassa couldn’t think of a good reason.  It wasn’t as if she was obliged to give him more than the time of day.

“He just galloped into the courtyard,” Mouse added.  “He requests an immediate meeting.”

“I see.”  Alassa was tempted to tell Hedrick to wait.  And yet, he wouldn’t have broken protocol so blatantly unless the situation was dire.  What was it?  “Please have him shown to the blue room.  I’ll speak with him there.”

She glanced at the walls as Mouse turned and hurried out of the room.  Jade would make his way down to the next cubbyhole, while Alassa moved through the monarch’s private corridors.  She thought fast, trying to determine why Hedrick had galloped all the way to Zangaria … even using the portals, it was a hell of a long way.  If he’d come to pledge his love … she snorted at the thought.  It would be preferable, she supposed, to a bid for his kingdom’s throne.  That would be a major diplomatic headache.

I suppose I could tell him to get lost and swear blind I didn’t see him, she thought, as she stepped into the blue room.  But too many people will have noticed his arrival.

She took a seat and waited, folding her hands on her lap as the door opened.  Prince Hedrick stepped into the room – he’d lost the swagger, part of her mind noted – and bowed deeply to her.  There was no hint of reluctance, no suggestion he thought he should be bowing to a king instead.  And yet, as he straightened, he looked nervous.  His eyes flickered from side to side, as if he expected assassins to teleport into the chamber and jump him.  Alassa hadn’t intended to offer refreshments, let alone alcohol, but she was tempted to do just that.  Hedrick looked like someone who needed a drink.

He was handsome enough, she supposed.  The unfinished cast to his features she recalled from his unsuccessful courtship was gone.  His face suggested a strong character, his short blonde hair suggesting a martial mindset.  Or, perhaps, martial ambitions.  Hedrick was old enough to have fought in the last battles of the war, but Emily hadn’t mentioned him in her letters.  His father might not have let him go.  Losing one prince would be bad.  Losing both would be a disaster.

“Your Majesty.”  Hedrick didn’t stumble over the words.  “On behalf of my father and brother, I must plead for your help.”

Alassa’s eyes narrowed.  She would have understood the younger generation rebelling against the elder.  She would have understood Hedrick waging war on his father and older brother.  But … asking for help on behalf of both of them?  What had happened?  And why was he so fearful?

“Your Majesty, I …”  Hedrick swallowed and started again.  “There has been an uprising in the streets.  We have lost control of Jorlem City and many smaller cities.  The rebels have my father and stepmother prisoner, along with my half-sisters and many others.  I … I barely escaped with my life.  The Crown Prince is assembling his troops to retake the cities, but … we need help.”

Alassa kept her face carefully blank.  Zangaria was quite some distance from Alluvia.  It would be tricky to assemble troops and dispatch them to the other kingdom, even if it wasn’t politically impossible.  She knew there were factions within her government that would flatly refuse to send help, and others that would use it as an excuse to demand crackdowns at home … hell, just sending troops would cause problems with other kingdoms.  The Necromantic War was over.  Alassa was uncomfortably aware that the Allied Lands were starting to fracture, as old grudges came back to life.  She didn’t regret the end of the war, but … she had to cope with the problems of victory. 

“Zangaria is a long way from Alluvia,” she said, carefully.  “Why do you require my help?”

Hedrick looked down.  “The rebels claim to have been inspired by one of your noblewomen,” he said.  “The rebellion is in her name.”

Alassa raised her eyebrows.  “Emily.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Hedrick said.  “They claim to have risen in her name.”

“Emily would not have set out to trigger a rebellion,” Alassa said, flatly.  “She’s been … busy.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Hedrick repeated.  “And yet the rebels claim to have risen in her name.”

Alassa wasn’t sure how seriously to take that.  Hedrick was describing literally world-shaking events.  Alassa should have heard something, beyond vague rumours, well before the younger prince arrived at her door.  Alluvia was a long way away, but still … she sighed, inwardly.  The tale had probably grown in the telling.  Emily wouldn’t have set out to overthrow a kingdom, but …

“I will discuss the matter with my trusted advisors and then get back to you,” Alassa said, slowly.  “I do not believe, however, that she is behind your rebellion.”

“They claim she inspired them,” Hedrick said.  “Our councillors advised us to request that you bring her to heel.”

Alassa hid her amusement.  Emily was, technically, a liegewoman.  She was supposed to support her queen in all things.  But Emily didn’t really accept the responsibilities – or half of the rights – of a liegewoman.  She didn’t even understand them.  Alassa knew Emily couldn’t be pressured into doing anything.  King Randor had tried and the result had been an utter disaster.  She could see how Hedrick, and his advisors, might think Alassa could control her …

Which means I might get the blame, if Emily is credited with starting the uprising, Alassa thought.  Shit.

She stood, signalling that the interview was over.  She’d have to discuss the matter with Jade – and then Emily herself.  Emily’s last letter had said she was going to Laughter Academy … quite some distance from Alluvia.  That was meaningless, of course.  Emily could teleport.  And she’d figured out how to craft a teleport enchantment too …

“Your Majesty!”  Hedrick looked stunned.  “I appeal to you …”

Alassa bit off a sharp response.  Hedrick didn’t appeal to her, not really.  Instead, she summoned Mouse and directed her to show Hedrick to the guestroom.  The servants would take care of him – and, also, keep an eye on him.  It would be useful to know just what sort of person he was, although … Alassa shook her head as he followed Mouse out the door.  He’d just dropped a massive hot potato in her lap …

… And, for the first time in far too long, she was unsure how to handle it.

The Right Side of History Snippet 1

4 Dec


Prologue I

The room stank of fear.

Constance, Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Francoise of Alluvia, pulled her dress around her as the noise from beyond the walls grew louder.  Night was falling, but the city outside was cast into sharp relief by towering infernos.  The riots had become a revolution, crowds of rebels and thugs throwing lighted torches into the homes of the great and the good.  She huddled closer to the rest of the royal companions as the queen stared at her husband.  He’d once been a great man and a greater king.  He’d chucked Constance’s chin and whispered promises of royal favours, if she wished to become his.  Now, he seemed almost diminished.  The kingdom was fading alongside its king.

It had all happened so quickly!  Constance could barely keep track of each piece of news – bad news – before the next arrived.  There had been fights over bread in the marketplace, of all things, fights that had turned into riots.  The Royal Guard had arrived to break up the fighting, the City Guardsmen had turned on them and … Constance wasn’t sure what had happened next, but the king had lost control of his city.  The castle gates had been slammed closed, wards snapped into place by royal magicians, but it hadn’t been enough to save everyone outside the walls.  She’d heard a messenger screaming a warning about mansions going up in flames.  The mob was running rampant, tearing through the aristocratic walls and hunting down the money-lenders and speculators.  Constance had heard a tale of horror from the guards on the battlements, before the queen had cut them off.  The money-lenders had been marched to the embankments and thrown to the rocks below.  Their wives and daughters hadn’t been treated anything like so kindly.

She shivered, helplessly, as the shouting grew louder.  The mob was calling for blood … royal blood.  Constance herself was a very distant relative of the king – her family lands were on the other side of the country, near the border with Rose Red – but somehow she was sure it wasn’t enough to protect her.  The bodyguards and chaperones her father had sent with her, when he’d allowed her to enter the queen’s service, were nowhere to be seen.  She hoped they were safe, wherever they were.  But she feared the worst.

“Got out there.”  Queen Francoise voice cut through the stifling tension.  “Order them to disperse.”

Constance winced and tried to hide it.  The queen was a sharp-tongued woman, more of a man – Constance would never dare say aloud – than her husband.  Two male children who’d survived to adulthood, as well as three daughters, had made her position unassailable.  The king could hardly refuse to treat her with the respect she’d earned, even though he had no compunctions about taking mistresses and then discarding them.  And yet … Constance could tell that the queen was making a mistake.  Her husband was trapped between fire and water, unable to confront the crowd or lead his men into battle against the mob.  All he could do was wait.

“If only Dater was here,” Queen Francoise snapped.  Her favourite son, according to rumour, had been disbanding his army when the rioting had turned into full-scale rebellion.  “He would teach them all a lesson.”

“Dater is a long way away,” the king said, mildly.  “And I sent Hedrick out as soon as the trouble began.”

“You should have sent him to deal with the crowds,” Queen Francoise accused.  “And now they’re at our door!”

The king turned away from his wife, his fists clenching with anger.  Constance understood.  A king could not be a king if he couldn’t exert authority, over his wife and children as much as his kingdom.  Everyone knew it was just a matter of time before the Crown Prince, perhaps pushed by his mother, started to demand more power and authority than his father could reasonably give him.  Dater was old enough to rule and young enough to make his mark, if he inherited the throne.  He was certainly prominent enough to seem a viable replacement, if the king lost too much face to rule.  It wouldn’t be the first time a king had ‘voluntarily’ surrendered his power and gone into exile.

Constance looked at the stone floor, trying not to attract attention.  The king’s temper was starting to boil.  She didn’t want to face his fury, not when no one would lift a hand in her defence.  The assembled nobles feared the king too, feared what he might do if his back was pressed against the wall.  Constance felt cold, wondering – deep inside – if it might be better if the king was … convinced to abdicate in favour of his son.  Dater was a dashing young man, so handsome and bursting with energy that no one would dare to stand against him.  Had he not been the hero of the wars?  Had he not taking on a necromantic army and smashed it in an hour of furious combat?  Had he not turned down the hand of Lady Emily herself, for the good of the kingdom?  Constance’s heart fluttered at the thought.  She was too lowly-born, for all the blue blood in her, to attract the prince … but she could dream.

She glanced up as Councillor Triune ran into the room.  He was normally jovial and warm to everyone, even the lowliest maidservants, but now his jowled face was streaked with sweat and his hands were shaking.  Constance knew she shouldn’t listen, as he hastily knelt before the king, but she couldn’t help herself.  Knowledge was power in the court, particularly if one got it before anyone else.  She had long since mastered the art of eavesdropping without making it obvious.  She didn’t know why she bothered sometimes.  As a young woman from the borderlands, she was rarely considered important enough to matter.  The only thing that kept her from being sent home was the favour of the queen.

“Your Majesty!”  Councillor Triune sounded as if he wanted to panic.  “The sorcerers are dead!”

A rustle ran round the chamber.  Constance swallowed, hard.  The walls were strong, but the royal court didn’t have enough men to hold them after the Royal Guard had been slaughtered.  Or deserted.  Or joined the rebels.  The stories just kept getting worse and worse.  If the rebels turned their attention to the castle, they could get over the walls.  The sorcerers were dead.  It was only a matter of time before the wards fell. 

The king glanced at his queen, then at the barred window looking over the courtyard and the city beyond.  The bars weren’t that strong.  If the rebels captured a catapult, or one of the new-fangled cannon, they could put a shot right through the window.  Constance took no interest in military affairs, but even she knew that walls couldn’t be held forever.  And then … she tried not to think about it.  The rebels wanted blood.  Her blood.

No, she corrected herself.  It was unlikely any of the mob knew who she was.  They want the king’s blood.

An idea flashed through her mind.  She could leave the chamber, perhaps on the pretence of going to the toilet, and swap clothes with a maid.  She could pretend to be a maid.  No one would know, if she was dressed as a maid … the rebels would ignore her, allowing her to walk out and then … and then what?  She didn’t know the city, beyond the inner walls.  She couldn’t hope to walk home.  She had only the faintest idea of the way!

“We have a plan,” Councillor Triune babbled.  “The troops will create a diversion.  The rest of us will get into carriages and flee to the army camp.  And then …”

“Excellent,” the queen said.  “Dater will purge the city with fire and blood.”

The plan didn’t seem a very good idea to Constance, but no one bothered to ask her opinion.  It was just taken for granted she’d be accompanying the queen, along with the remainder of her ladies.  Councillor Triune’s men urged them down the stairs, into the rear courtyard, as troops ran forward to rally at the forward gates.  They’d always struck Constance as fops, when they hadn’t been trying to court her in their clumsy manner, but … they were going to die in defence of their king.  She wished she’d been kinder to the last knight who’d tried to court her.  He’d been so dreadfully earnest she’d laughed in his face.

She winced at the noise as they scrambled into the royal carriages.  It was hardly her first time in a coach, but … she wished she was on horseback.  An eager horse and a clear road … it was all she asked.  The littlest princess asked for a horse for herself as she was bundled into another carriage with her nanny, her mother ignoring her cries as the door slammed firmly closed.  Constance was tempted to suggest the princess was given a horse, that she was given a horse, but she didn’t dare.  Councillor Triune fussed around, snapping orders to the guards as the sound of fighting grew louder.  His face was too grim for her to risk speaking her mind.  If he got the royal family out, his future would be assured.  He was hardly going to alter the plan on her say-so.

“Get in,” the queen snapped.  “Now!”

Constance heard someone – Councillor Triune, perhaps – give the command to open the rear gates as she scrambled into the carriage.  The regal vehicle lurched as the door was banged closed, then started to move.  Constance found a seat and sat down, trying not to look at the queen.  The expression on her face promised death and destruction – and social exclusion, perhaps, for the one who disturb her.  Constance tried not to shiver openly.  Law and order was breaking down everywhere.  She didn’t want to think about what might happen if the Crown Prince couldn’t regain control of the city.  How many of the dressmakers and jewellers and others she’d patronised were about to die?

“They’ll pay for this,” the queen said, more to herself than the rest of the passengers.  It had the air of a blood oath, a promise that could not be broken.  “They’ll pay in …”

The shouting grew louder.  The carriage lurched again, then crashed to a halt.  Constance reached for the window to pull back the blinds, the queen slapped her hand hard enough to hurt before she could touch the fabric.  The carriage was quivering, as if someone was beating their fists against it … Constance started back as the door shook, then came free.  A grim-faced man stared at her, his gaze swiftly turning into a leer.  Behind him, the city burned.

“Look,” he shouted.  “We’ve captured the royal whores!”

His hand snapped hold of Constance’s wrist before she could pull back and yanked her forward.  She tumbled out of the carriage, hitting the paving stone before she could catch herself.  Pain shot through her as strong arms yanked her to her feet, holding her so firmly she couldn’t pull free.  The queen was dragged out too, to hoots and hollers from the rabble.  Her eyes were wide with fear.  Constance struggled against her captor, but she couldn’t break free.  He was just too strong.

She felt horror, numb horror, sinking into her as she looked past the carriage.  The king’s carriage was ahead of her, the king himself being manhandled away by a group of men in red shirts.  They were on the embankment, too close to the river to escape … she wondered, suddenly, if that had been deliberate.  She couldn’t see Councillor Triune anywhere.  The king’s man had vanished …

A commanding voice cut through the crowd.  “Take the whores to the Final Prison!”

Constance shuddered as her captor started to push her forward.  She’d heard all the stories about the Final Prison, about how it was the last port of call for men sentenced to death.  If someone went in a prisoner, they didn’t come out again.  Panic gave her strength: she stamped on her captor’s foot as hard as she could, then ran to the embankment.  The river had dwindled over the last few months, as summer had started to bite, but if she could get into the water she could swim down to the distant lands beyond the walls.  They wouldn’t expect her to be able to swim.  Countrywomen learnt as a matter of course, but cityfolk regarded the idea of women swimming as perverse.  It was …

“Stop,” someone shouted.  “Now!”

Constance jumped … and realised, too late, that she’d misjudged.  The river had shrunk too far.  She was plummeting towards jagged rocks and the remains of sunken ships, not waters that might hide her long enough to let her escape.  She thought, suddenly, of her parents.  Would they ever know what had happened to her?

In truth, she feared they would never know.

Musings on the US 2020 Election

1 Dec

Musings on the US 2020 Election

Normal commenting rules apply.

I didn’t spend much time blogging about the 2020 US election.  (Some people will consider that a relief – you’re welcome <grin>).  Part of the problem, of course, was that I simply didn’t have the time, certainly when compared to the 2016 election.  The rest of the problem was that things kept changing time and time again, to the point where I started composing articles entitled Why Trump/Biden Is Going To Win and discovering, when I finally had time to put hand to keyboard, that they were already outdated.  I spent a bit of time putting together lists for each candidate, ideas for reasons behind their victory/defeat … without committing myself, because I couldn’t say, with any real certainty, that one candidate had an edge over the other.

And most of those reasons were inaccurate.

I listed reasons that the winner would win.  Many of those reasons appear to have been largely irrelevant.  I listed reasons the loser would lose.  Ditto.  Both sides predicted a landslide victory, propelled by a wave of silent voters.  Both sides appear to have had a wave of voters.  Trump may have lost, both in the popular count and the electoral college, but he did astonishingly well in many ways.  This bodes ill for the future.  Indeed, in many ways, this result was the worst possible.

First, Trump may have lost the election, but ‘Trumpism’ has not been discredited.  The populist vote cannot be discounted.  Indeed, now that Trump himself is shuffling off the political stage, it will be easier for his lukewarm supporters to raise the banner of his ideology – insofar as it really exists – without the colossal inconvenience of the man himself.  In short, as I have said before, Trump is a symptom rather than a cause of the US’s problems and the election result proves it. 

Second, Biden did not deserve to win.  The Democratic Party as a whole did not engage in a period of soul-searching, reconfiguring and eventual production of a candidate who could appeal to lukewarm right-wing voters as well as the left – in short, someone who could appeal to the majority of the country.  Biden himself was parachuted into the nomination by the party elites, while Harris failed to get through even the first hurdle when she tried to snare the nomination for herself.  The party, in short, learnt nothing from 2016.  Biden won, at least in part, because he wasn’t Donald Trump.  Ironic as this is, it promises problems for the future.

Third, the media – both the mainstream media and social media – completely abandoned all pretence of impartiality.  This is, as far as anyone on the right is concerned, blatant foul play.  Open censorship – openly biased – undermines trust in the media and the system itself, ensuring – for example – that if a recount was held tomorrow and Biden won fairly, a sizable percentage of the country wouldn’t believe it (even though it was true).  The media – too – learnt nothing from 2016.  Instead of realising their mistake and cooling down, they created a fertile ground for conspiracy theories. 

Fourth, and perhaps worst of all, trust in the voting process has been badly undermined.  The red flags may or may not be signs of fraud, as is currently being alleged, but it should go without saying that they should be investigated openly.  Given the importance of the process, every precaution should have been taken to ensure that the voting system – mail-in ballots, for example – was airtight.  Instead, there seems to have been a degree of sloppiness that would be unacceptable elsewhere.  Again, this created a fertile ground for conspiracy theories. 

It is common, these days, to blame everything on Donald Trump.  And yet, the problems facing the United States – the problems that propelled Trump into the Oval Office, existed well before the idea of ‘President Trump’ was anything more than a Simpsons joke.  Upon taking office, Biden will have to tackle them or face a far stronger challenge in 2024.  This problems include:

One – a political/economical/corporate elite that has become increasingly detached from the realities of life, both in America and the rest of the world.  This elite, lacking understanding of how things really work, repeatedly makes mistakes that do immense damage to America’s power and prestige.  Worse, this elite is steadily closing ranks against newcomers both Left and Right.  They worked hard to exclude Trump, but they are doing the same to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk.

Two – a federal bureaucracy that is increasingly incompetent, unrestrained, uncontrolled and indeed uncontrollable, working more for itself than for the country as a whole.

Three – an ever-growing network of activists, both Left and Right, that are making increasingly absurd demands and, now they see Biden as President, will expect him to produce (or else).  This is matched by increasing loathing for such activists.

Four – a media complex, as I noted above, that is longer remotely impartial and thus untrusted (even by the people it favoured). 

Five – an endless series of economic problems that are  making citizens increasingly desperate and thus more likely to turn to populists like Trump and Ocasio-Cortez (who has a fair claim to being the left-wind version of Trump). 

Six – a worsening global climate, caused by elitist mismanagement and geopolitical realities that the US was unable or unwilling to tackle. 

Seventh – a growing sense of political disenfranchisement, amongst both the Right and the Left.  The Right believes that Washington doesn’t give a damn about them (and, now, that the election was stolen): the Left believes that Washington forced them to accept Biden and Harris as its candidates, rather than Sanders, Warren or anyone else. 

None of these problems were caused by Trump.  But it cannot be denied that Trump, and the response to Trump, made them a great deal worse.


The problems facing Joe Biden would daunt Lincoln, who was perhaps the last true American statesman.  It is very easy to carp and criticise when one is not responsible for actually fixing the problems.  It is a great deal harder to actually fix the problems, particular when one side regards you as an illegitimate president and the other expects you to bring a New Heaven and a New Earth (as Trump will happily testify).  Biden must follow a policy calculated to steer between those two poles, a task that would be extremely difficult for a man in his prime.

He must push for sensible politics and, perhaps more importantly, shut down the nuts on his side of the aisle while reaching out to lukewarm Republicans.  This will not be easy.  The loonier left-wingers could say whatever they liked, as long as there wasn’t much chance of them ever being anything more than a tiny vocal minority.  Now, with the prospect of actually having to govern the country looming ever-larger, Biden must keep them under control.  They will see this as a betrayal, of course.

There’s a sense that Biden’s victory means a return to normal politics.  That, I think, is not true.  Trump failed to fix many of the problems facing the United States.  Biden will not find it any easier.  And, as Trump recedes from the stage, the problems that put him in power in the first place will start to loom large once again.