If you still haven’t heard of Arron of the Black Forest, that’s my fault, not yours. How do we rectify that? Well, first off, you can click over to the Arron of the Black Forest blog. Here’s a taste of what you’ve been missing:

Chapter 1: With Hounds on His Heels

October 6, 2011

The driving rain made the dog’s feral snarl gurgle before it was lost to another deafening crash of thunder. Arron’s stolen horse kicked back at the dog close on its hooves, and both animals stumbled.

Arron tilted precariously in his saddle but dragged himself back to center with both strong arms.

“Sovitta-Maton awaits you if you fall!” Arron shouted at the horse, invoking the name of the God of Darkness, Cold, and Cruelty that his lost people both hated and honored. The horse didn’t pay any attention to his curse.

The hound tripped, too, giving Arron’s horse a stride’s lead, but that wasn’t going to be nearly enough. The barbarian gritted his teeth and squeezed the horse’s flanks with thighs like temple columns. The animal grunted, but it obeyed. Arron allowed a quick smile for both the horse and himself as the beast put a few more strides between itself and the pursuing hounds.

A brilliant flash of lightning revealed the wide-scattered trees, still mostly bare of leaves in the first few weeks of spring. Arron had lost track of anything like a trail long ago, and he’d done so on purpose. The men who followed them meant to take him back to Townshend dead or alive, and since Arron had no intention of going back there alive, he was once again in a fight for his life.

Read more . . .

Religion in the World of Arron of the Black Forest

November 10, 2011

Though raised steeped in the ancient ways of his people, Arron isn’t a particularly religious man, as was the case among the warriors of his tribe. The gods tended to be the province of the shamans and womenfolk. But still, he’s prone to invoking the gods of his people. If he’s angry with you, he might curse you by invoking the name of the evil Sovitta-Maton: “May Sovitta-Maton take your wretched soul!” or: “Sovitta-Maton calls for you, dog!” If he’s uncertain about something, and feels he could use a little divine intervention, he’ll call upon Elinym-Päristö: “May the Mother of Sand and Sea bring me good fortune.” or: “Thank Elinym for small favors.” This doesn’t mean that Arron will sit around waiting for divine intervention, regardless of the god or the situation, the people of the Black Forest lived by the credo: “The gods help those who help themselves.”

Read more . . .

Magic in the Heteronomy

December 8, 2011

The academic wizards of the New Ways have discovered the means to draw power out of their own bodies and are no longer able to draw magic from the earth as was done in the old days. But the magi of the Heteronomy still valued the more difficult-to-access, but likewise more powerful magic protected by the Dozen Tribes of the Black Forest, who jealously guarded their nearly-forgotten ways. It was the southern wizards’ lust for this knowledge that brought bloody ruin upon the Black Forest.

The magi of the Heteronomy are also known as egomancers, because it is their own desire, their own insistence, on creating magic from their own life-forces that brings them power.

Egomancers are able to sense magic in others. This is one of the first lessons an apprentice magus learns, and unless the would-be egomancer shows talent in the detection of the ebb and flow of magic energy, their training ends there.

Read more . . .

Available now for the Kindle and Nook!

32 of Lovecraft’s Favorite Words

December 23, 2011

In my travels through the stygian corridors of the noisome internet, I ran across the brilliant site Cthulhu Chick in which we’re given a list of some of H.P. Lovecraft’s favorite words—the often antiquated usage he’s known for, and some other popular favorites. Since I knew going in that The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff was as much an homage to Lovecraft as anything, I kept this list next to me as I wrote, trying my damnedest to use as many of them as I could.

Here’s how that worked out, with the number of times Lovecraft used that word himself in parenthesis after each word, which is called out in bold:

There was more than one ghost in this accursed (76) place, and all of them were focused around this “Captain,” a man who was a failure in life, and who died a cripple, tortured by his household servants.

She was not what she appeared, but an undead thing, the blasphemous (92) shade of a woman dead for nigh on a century.

Read more . . .

The Frozen Vast and the Heteronomy

December 30, 2011

The Frozen Vast is the northernmost region of a narrow continent (about 1100 miles at its widest, where it meets the great polar continent, down to just a few miles at its tip) that stretches up from the land bridge known as the Teardrops (about 800 miles north of the equator), past the Arctic Circle to merge with the great northern polar continent. South of the Teardrops is an old and well-settled continent that was once home to many disparate peoples and nations. Over the course of millennia, these nations were systematically brought to heel under the influence of a faceless bureaucracy known simply as the Heteronomy.

The Teardrops was formed by wizards of the Heteronomy who coveted the rich farmlands of the temperate northern continent, and desired a land route to this remote land. This was achieved by a great series of magic rituals that brought a new ice age to the northern latitudes, locking huge stretches of ocean in a great Ice Sea. When that sea froze, ocean levels dropped in the south, revealing the Teardrops: a land bridge surrounded by a scattered field of islands.

Read more . . .

Pulp Ark Award Nominee

January 26, 2012

Arron of the Black Forest has been nominated in three separate categories for this year’s Pulp Ark Award!

Read more . . .

Why I Love Barbarians

February 3, 2012

Most of the people I know who are fantasy fans—or fantasy authors—came into the genre by way of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or maybe the Narnia series. Some pretty stellar works, to be sure, but I’d never heard of them when I came across Conan the Barbarian.

I’ve blogged about this in detail before, so won’t belabor the point again here, but the Marvel Conan comics were my introduction to the fantasy genre. It didn’t take long after reading the first few of those I got my mitts on before I strode boldly into the Hyborean realms of Robert E. Howard’s original stories. And as you can imagine it was but a short trek from there to the many lands (including more than one of my own making) of the Dungeons & Dragons game.

To me, Conan is fantasy, and fantasy is Conan. Save your reluctant hobbits. I’ll take my heroes slightly disheveled, largely unafraid, and all-too-ready to cleave something in twain.

Read more . . .

H.P. Lovecraft: The Work vs. The Man

February 17, 2012

I’ve been not just open about the influence H.P. Lovecraft has had on me, and on The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff in particular—I’ve shouted it from whatever rooftop I could find (including this one). But lately there has been a lot being said about the late Mr. Lovecraft that’s made me, and a lot of other fans of this dark fantasy icon, a little uneasy. And that may be an understatement.

Though I can’t say I didn’t notice an underlying racism in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, and for that matter, his friend Robert E. Howard as well, but even as a teenager (or younger) when I first discovered these authors, I put that down to the day and age in which they lived. These stories were written in the 1920s and 30s—much less enlightened times, some thirty years before the Civil Rights Movement brought about its massive shift in American society. In some ways, it was as though I thought of these men as some kind of primitives, communicating from a simpler, less civilized time.

Read more . . .

Voyage of the Merry Hangman

March 1, 2012


The Black Forest

Four men stood under the tree where a young girl cowered in fear. The fierce red hair and the elk hides she wore told Arron that she was one of the Twelve Tribes, and though she was not a member of his family, she was of his people. The Black Forest and the Frozen Vast was her home. She didn’t look more than twelve winters old.

And the men were outsiders, from the hated Heteronomy to the south where wizards worked their dark arts.

The men grinned and taunted her. Since there were only four of them, Arron believed they were scouts for a larger force that could be nearby. Lately there had been more and more Heteronomy soldiers through the Black Forest. The shamans among the Twelve Tribes all saw portents of evil things to come.

“Come down, girl. We won’t hurt you.” The tallest of the Heteronomy warriors waved at the girl. He was big and strong and wore a fierce beard as the Southerners sometimes did while in the Vast. The Black Forest people went beardless. The scout’s chainmail gleamed in the afternoon sunlight and he kept his right hand on the long sword at his side.

Read more . . .

Flavors of Fantasy: Some Quick Definitions

March 8, 2012

You’ll find whole convention seminars devoted to the fine line separating various fantasy and science fiction sub-genres, and those discussions can range from spirited and friendly to near-riots. Though there may be a few instances where most people can easily agree, and some sub-genres seem pretty obvious, like steampunk or so-called “erotic fantasy,” others are a little trickier to nail down. I’ve written before, for instance on the line between urban fantasy and horror—that one has really been confused over the past several years.

But what about the “big three” fantasy sub-genres, and how Arron of the Black Forest fits in?

Mel and I have used the term “sword & sorcery” to describe the series, and have kept that in mind when writing it. But what does that mean?

First, let’s start with the “big three,” the three primary divisions of traditional fantasy. And by traditional fantasy I mean fantasy with a vaguely medieval technology level in a secondary world (a world created entirely from the author’s imagination, like Middle Earth or Faerûn) rich in magic and monsters.

Read more . . .

Come on over to the world of Arron of the Black Forest, and stay a while!


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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