So in my continuing quest to read more modern epic fantasies, I started The Kinshield Legacy by K.C. May. I honestly don’t remember where or why I got it — it’s possible it was a free Kindle offer at some point. Actually it looks like it might be self-published since Peach Orchard Press isn’t exactly lighting up a Google search.
Here’s my question: How many pages should I give a book to grab my attention before I set it aside? I’ve read 69 Kindle pages, which is 19% of the book (it’s short). Thusfar it’s not grabbing my attention but maybe I’ll stick with it until the 25% mark. Okay that’s my new rule: From now on, I will give a book 100 pages or 25%, whichever comes first, to become awesome. At least, for authors I don’t already know.
So what works and what doesn’t work in Kinshield Legacy? The prose is clear and easy to read, which is a plus. I don’t much care for overly pretentious writing where I have to grab a dictionary every other paragraph. That’s not the kind of writing I want to produce.
What doesn’t work? Epic fantasy characters should not use the word “ain’t.” I gather it was supposed to convey that Gavin speaks like a commoner, but this particular word doesn’t work for me in the context of epic fantasy.
On the other hand, I liked the Farthan dialect shown in Chapter 6: “Oh, your head. You are injure.” “Bend down so I will reach you.” Conclusion: Changes to verb tense make a character sound like a foreigner, without going too far overboard.
In the first eight chapters of this book, a rather large number of characters are introduced, with I believe five different POVs (Gavin, Brodas, Daia, Brawna, and Risan). And these are fairly short chapters, so we actually don’t spend much time with each one of them. For me, it was hard to get a handle on them. Which leads me to this conclusion: It’s important to spend enough time with new characters as they are introduced so that the reader will recognize and remember them later.
On the subject of chapter length, I prefer somewhat shorter chapters, but I think these were a bit too short. At least for the amount of information that needed to be communicated. I strive for around 3000 words or so, which is kind of short, but Kinshield Legacy chapters felt closer to 1500 words. (I wish that was something the Kindle could show: Number of words in the book, and in each chapter.) (See update below.)
Now let’s talk about money. Every epic fantasy needs to have a system of coinage, and this is something I struggle with all the time. It’s hard to avoid going straight to the D&D brass/tin, copper, silver, electrum, gold, platinum model. You want some amount of realism, but I think coinage is one of the key things that distinguishes a fantasy world from the real world. Simply naming and describing a coin and the symbols on the front and back has the potential to provide a great deal of setting and history for a fantasy world. Kinshield uses the following coin denominations (so far): The pielar (copper), the kion (small silver), and the dyclen (large silver, equivalent to five kion). There was also something called a dycla, which I assumed was another word for the dyclen. Maybe the plural form. I puzzled these things out because it’s something I specifically look for, but I’m not sure a casual reader would have figured it out. So my takeaway point is this: Coinage should be dead simple, or clearly explained and reiterated often.
I generally write something simple like “copper coins” or “silver coins,” or even just “coins,” but I have never been happy with it. So I am definitely looking to steal somebody else’s ideas here. (John Brown used coins called “boxings” in Servant of a Dark God, and while I commend him for making up something new, it just doesn’t sound valuable to me. :) I can’t remember what Robert Jordan did offhand, but I recall it being fairly well done, with each kingdom having its own type of coins stamped with the face of the king or queen or whatnot, which is pretty realistic.)
At any rate, coinage in epic fantasy is a tricky subject. It’s one of those things that if you’re going to go into detail, you better get it right, otherwise you’re going to sound silly. (“Then he was paid 500 gold pieces for his flute… then he collapsed under the weight of it… then he was robbed because he couldn’t fit all those coins in his pants pocket… and oh yeah, medieval pants didn’t even have pockets, so he had to hold all 500 coins in his giant, five-feet-long hands… then he was depressed because of the outrageous inflation in the land, because if it costs 500 gold coins to buy a wooden flute, what must it cost to buy a horse?”)
UPDATE: I figured out that the first three chapters were 3038, 2094, and 1636 words respectively, for what it’s worth.