Hey there, everyone! Today I’m joining in the release day festivities for JP Harker’s fantasy novel with historical flavors, Proud Fox, book four in his The Caledon Saga. In addition to an excerpt from this book, JP was kind enough to stop by for a quick chat about how his series came to fruition, his inspiration behind the writing, and other bookish things. Keep scrolling to learn more about Proud Fox, and if you think this sounds right up your alley, stop by over on Twitter to win yourself an ebook copy of the first book in the series, Wildcat, to get you started on this epic adventure!
Elazar son of Darizar, the urbane, handsome, and charming Prince of Ushir, is building mud huts in the middle of nowhere. And loves it. Lucan has welcomed him into the Caledon and, civilised bathing aside, Elazar is quite content to stay there. This may be influenced by the wild and fair Almha, who seems to find him as intriguing as he finds her.
But trouble brews back in Ushir. The new Gaian Emperor has a civil war to fight, and the son of King Darizar may be a valuable ally. Or a useful hostage. His happy life among the Caledon may soon come under threat, as games of power reach to grasp Elazar from across the sea. But a man must love his fate, for what else can he do?
‘I had great pleasure reading Wildcat. Apart from your obvious talent as a writer, I have such admiration for your meticulous research.’
– JAMES COSMO, Actor
Proud Fox Excerpt
All things being equal, Elazar mused, things could be going far worse. The Ushiran prince leaned around his shield and hacked down at an armoured shoulder, trying not to slip on the muddy grass. The Sarrac’s mail didn’t part, but the crushing power of the iron drew a gruff cry from the raider, and when Elazar battered down at him again, the big man dropped to one knee. Almha, keeping tight to his left, sent her boot into the Sarrac’s mouth, and blood trickled down his beard as he fell. Elazar risked a quick glance at his comrade in the shieldwall. Generally when he looked at Almha his thoughts drifted to things better suited to bedrooms than battlefields, but right now, with her eyes bright and her teeth bared, he was just glad he was standing beside her, not in front of her.
The tribeswoman clearly wanted to follow up and attack the downed man, but her training shone through as she held back the urge and kept her place in the Caledon wall. Soon enough another raider leaped over the fallen man and swung a short-handled axe at Almha’s head. The value of the wall proved itself yet again as Elazar caught the blow on his shield. The axe glanced away and the prince stabbed low, his sword plunging through the warrior’s thigh. Elazar tore the weapon free, and Almha barged into the Sarrac as he staggered off-balance.
The Bearnican lands had seen little enough rain of late, but what they’d had had softened the earth of the hill, and the pounding of booted feet had churned it up into a muddy mess. The Sarrac’s feet went out from under him as the heavy shield knocked him backwards, and he careened into the man in the mailshirt, who was struggling to stand up. The pair collapsed to the grass together. It would have looked comical if the Sarracs hadn’t been a gang of madmen bent on theft, rape, and slaughter. As things were, it was just another chance to hurt the vicious bastards, and Elazar called out to his company in the lilting tongue of the Lurians.
As one the line of tribesmen moved forward, their shields locked tight together. They took three short steps, grunting in unison with each one, and shoved the milling Sarracs backwards. When they reached the fallen raiders Elazar stamped down hard on the one man’s wounded leg, while Almha gutted the other with a quick slash of her sword. A foul smell filled the air and both raiders cried out in pain but, to their miniscule credit, neither man called for mercy. More Sarracs were coming at the shieldwall now, and Elazar left it to the rank behind to finish off the downed men. He frowned at the charging raiders still in front of him. Are they brave or just stupid to keep attacking shieldwalls like this?
Whichever it was, it was working in the Caledon’s favour. A huge man strode towards them, a giant decked out in fur and mail, with a beard like a thornbush and an axe that looked like it could split a bull’s skull in one swing. In anything vaguely resembling a fair fight he would have killed Elazar with ease, but he was brought down in mere seconds by the unity of the Caledon line; first Odran cracked the giant’s knee with his shield-rim, then Almha shoved him sideways as he stumbled. It gave Elazar an opening that was almost too easy, and the prince drove his blade up between the giant’s legs. The massive Sarrac screamed as the iron cut through his groin, and when the weapon was ripped out again, the shriek hurt Elazar’s ears. Odran kept close to Elazar’s right as his sword crashed through the gelded man’s temple, and the prince opened his throat up the moment Odran pulled back into the wall. They can rush us all they like, but we are the cliff that shrugs off the wave.
The Caledon were standing tight together, their shields locked, and the Sarracs either had to cram in too close to swing their long swords and axes, or spread out and end up facing two or three close-packed tribesmen apiece. They knew this, they had to, and yet on they came regardless. Will they never learn? Another brave or foolish man hurled himself at them, and his weapon thudded harmlessly from Elazar’s shield a heartbeat before Almha’s blade rammed under his ribs. Hopefully not.
For all the danger they were in, the Ushiran prince couldn’t keep his mind from wandering for a moment. He thought back to the first time he’d fought the Sarracs, and how terrified he’d been of these feral men, enormous in their furs and stinking of ale and blood. He’d been a mere callow youth then, standing beside his friend because it had seemed the right thing to do, and practically pissing himself each time a bearded monster came howling at him.
He was sure he’d have run away if his legs hadn’t been so weak, and what little he remembered of the Battle of Mas Arwel was a blur of fear and panic; wildly slashing at anything that moved and desperately wishing he was anywhere else in the world. Not like today.
Elazar was no fool. The rational fear of death and maiming was still very much with him, but today that fear was a lot easier to control. This was a very different fight to that bloody day three harvests ago. For a start this battle was smaller, a skirmish of barely threescore warriors per side. For another, today he stood in a shieldwall, and the Sarracs could no more breach it than they could walk across a lake. But more than that, more importantly than anything, was the man who was doing the fighting. Three years ago he’d been merely Prince Elazar, the swarthy stranger in costly silks who’d come west to help his friend. Today he was the Proud Fox, with blue woad on his face, inked battlemarks on his arm, and dragonfire burning in his gut.
He shook the thought away and braced himself as another raider came hurtling at them. Unusually for a Sarrac this one was carrying a shield. It was a small, poorly-made circle of red-painted wood, but all the same it was a sign that some of these savages had caught on to how useful a shield could be. Not that the fools knew how to use them. The raider locked eyes with Elazar and screamed as he charged, outpacing his comrades in his eagerness.
Elazar recognised the Sarracs’ name for him, which apparently translated into ‘Black Devil’. The prince was never sure how to feel about that. Considering his half-Gaian mother, Elazar was positively pale compared to most Ushirans, yet he was clearly the only Ushiran the mountain savages had encountered, and they all assumed that he was some kind of dark-skinned demon; something to be feared and hated in equal measure. This did not put them off from fighting him, of course. Quite the opposite.
Meet the Author
JP Harker is the pen-name of James Thomas, obsessive martial artist, archaeology grad, humble hospital admin staff by day, indie fantasy author by night. He is a proud Welshman and Welsh speaker, and so it was probably inevitable that, when he came to write books, that heritage would come to the fore – Cymru am Byth!
Thanks so much for stopping by for a chat, JP. Since we already have your official bio, care to tell us about yourself in ten words of less?
My body is 35. My mind is 65.
Can you share with us something about Proud Fox that isn’t in the blurb?
Sure; the title refers to the warrior name of our protagonist (Elazar), who is a recently appointed member of the Caledon’s Gadarim warriors, only the second non-tribesman in history to join the elite fraternity. He’s from a culture based on ancient Egypt and Persia, while the Caledon are based on the ancient Welsh.
Give us an idea of how the Caledon Saga came to fruition.
Well, this began life as a plan for a single book (Wildcat), which was intended as an Iron Age prequel to a medieval fantasy I wrote years ago; I’d already created this background history based on Wales (my beloved homeland), and I thought I’d write a book about the early days of this fantasy nation. About halfway through planning Wildcat, I realised this would have to be a trilogy… then that was too short…. I got carried away and it’s now set to be a six book series!
Was there any specific research you’ve done or inspiration you’ve pulled from for the Caledon Saga?
Oh yes! My bookshelves groan with research books, and I’m very glad of my time studying archaeology to give me a head-start on it all. There’s been a lot of research on the British Iron Age and on the Romans, the majority of it on religion and warfare. Even though this is a fantasy, I was (and am) very keen for it to feel real for the reader, and that means getting those details in.
Since Proud Fox is book four in the series, tell us about book one, Wildcat.
Wildcat is set about two decades before the events of Proud Fox, and is about the creation of the Caledon as an alliance of tribes, told through the eyes of Rhianwyn, one of its founders. The story begins with her living a fairly simple life as a chieftain’s daughter in one of several squabbling tribes, but when the Gaian Empire starts encroaching on their land, some very very bad things end up happening, and Rhia and her people have to adapt or perish.
What do you think makes a good story?
Characters that the reader cheers for when they succeed and cry for when they fail.
What comes first, the plot or the characters?
I’d say I generally think of plots first and once the basic events are sketched out, I’ll put in my characters and work out how they’d react to what has to happen. Of course, the characters’ personalities can lead to decisions that change where the plot goes, and then I re-plan the plot and start again! (sometimes several times)
Writing can be a stressful pursuit. Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
The trite answer is always ‘keep going’ and to be honest, I can’t think of much better advice. If you love writing keep practicing it, and if you think you’re doing it wrong, find honest friends to give their opinions then keep practicing some more. I’ve never studied creative writing but I’ve done a lot of trial and error in my day – for me at least, that’s been a great way to learn.
Oh, the other tip is; ignore it when you hear things like ‘You’re not a real writer unless…’.
Thank you again for taking the time to have a chat, JP. Tell us what lies ahead for you!
Many things! My Arthurian novel, Gawain, should be out next year, and if that goes well it will be the first of a series on Arthur’s knights (I finished the first draft of Lancelot this summer). Book 5 of the Caledon Saga is in the chapter breakdown stage and I’m working on the outline for Book 6. I’m also intermittently working on a large, epic fantasy series that I’ve yet to name, plus I’ve got that urban fantasy book knocking around that I should really do something with… so yes, many things!