A month or more ago, I messaged a man named Ben Galley to ask if he would mind me reviewing his books. He agreed, so I began to prepare a review of Bloodrush, one of my top reads of 2016. I had devoured Bloodrush and its sequels in the Scarlet Star trilogy (Bloodmoon and Bloodfeud) in a matter of days and could not be persuaded to do anything else during that time. Even stopping to make a new cup of tea was hard work, especially when I realised that I’d be too busy reading to remember that I’d made one in the first place. At least I realised that I had to put the book down whilst making the tea… after I poured boiling water all over the kitchen worktop and my feet.
In short, I am a huge fan of Ben’s. He is an author of some repute in fantasy circles, but he’s also a self-publishing specialist who helps people like me get their books out into the world – if this is you, and you’d like to speak to him, you can visit Shelf Help.
When I began to consider what I was going to write in my review, the idea was to compare Ben’s Scarlet Star trilogy to the Emaneska Series, beginning with The Written, which I read the previous year and also could not put down. The series was fresh in my head after Ben was kind enough to send out a short story called The Iron Keys to his mailing list on Christmas Day. When it was delivered, I retreated to a comfy chair with a glass of wine, and read the entire thing in half an hour. The rest of the family played a game or something, I couldn’t tell you exactly what, because it wasn’t Christmas anymore, and I was far away watching a man named Farden fight for his life.
It was at this point, I reconsidered the idea of reviewing Ben’s work at all. This is someone who isn’t much older than I am, and is currently living my dream. Let’s be honest here, there’s a bit of a jealousy factor – especially when you look at how talented the man is. I don’t want to appear sycophantic, but I cannot explain, dear reader, how much I admire his work.
Here are some examples, just in case you don’t believe me:
The Emaneska Series builds a world that is so intricate, it seems to breathe on its own. Worlds that aren’t built in tune with themselves can feel stilted, histories can feel as fake as a theatre backdrop, full of painted scenery, just there for the look of the thing. Not true with Emaneska. The world is defined with enough imaginative thinking to allow the reader to rebuild it in their mind as the story progresses. The addition of ‘The Iron Keys’ as a prequel to the protagonist, Farden’s, adventures is yet another elements which shows how parts of Emaneska existed before what the reader would consider the ‘beginning’, and how other parts continue along their own paths even as the reader is focused on one. Where some writers build their worlds and present them fully formed in words of steel at the beginning of their work, Ben’s beginning for Emaneska clearly came earlier, and I believe its development will continue long after the reader has closed the final book and placed it, tearfully, on a nightstand somewhere.
Now, I won’t lie to you – the first time I picked up a copy of The Written, it was because I liked the cover. It was also because I loved the feel of the paper. Yes, I judged a book by its cover and its paper, and I have never regretted anything less. For about a year, I didn’t read it, it was at the bottom of the huge pile of unread books that I will get through, one day, I promise. When I did get around to reading it, I didn’t like it – there was no discernible reason for it, The Written and I just didn’t get along. The first chapter didn’t trap me in the way I expected, so I stopped, waited a couple of months, and tried again. Turns out that was a really excellent thing to do, as when I came back to it I was almost instantly captivated. I will always advocate not continuing with a book you don’t like, I have seen many people turned from the path of reading by being forced to complete a book they couldn’t stand, but I also believe that it’s always worth trying again. Worked for me!
The Scarlet Star trilogy, on the other hand, has much more of a basis in history as it seems to follow the privileged few of Victorian London, and the prospectors of the United States, specifically Wyoming. However, the take is somewhat unusual as the reader is swept into an alternate universe where blood has intriguing properties and the Queen is, well, a little different. We follow the young Tonmerion Hark from his aristocratic surroundings across the Atlantic where he comes into contact with all manner of filthy things, including Lurker, who is one of my all time favourite characters. Think Stephen King’s gunslinger, Roland, with added wit and charisma. I don’t want to let personal opinion colour your reading but, of both, the Scarlet Star is my preferred series, possibly because of the parallels drawn between the history I know so well, and the magic I always wished would permeate my world.
Ben has this uncanny ability to draw the reader into surreal situations in bizarre worlds, whilst keeping them completely at ease. I felt at home in Emaneska, and in the plains of Wyoming – both places I have never been, the former for obvious reasons. It is also easy to see how Ben has been influenced by the great builders of fantasy, Tolkien in particular, and comparisons can certainly be drawn between their work. The depth of description for one, and the seemingly limitless imagination is another. His works, from the covers and blurbs scream fantasy, but their appeal, I believe is much further reaching. The personal details and character development build characters that are flawed not because important characters are supposed to have flaws to make ‘Good Writing’, but because they are people, and people have problems.
His work is “laugh out loud until you cry” funny, can make even the hardest of men tear up (my other half), and is just so quotable. My other half loved Farden as a character so much, he created his own version for the system we LARP in.
Be drawn into worlds full of griffins, magick, blood, and fairies, marvel at the splendid worlds that Ben has made. it’s definitely worth it.
Also – be sure to appreciate the maps. Ben likes a good map.
Now, I’m off to wait until March 30th, when Ben’s new book, The Heart of Stone, comes out.