Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Four

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Four

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – The Lightstone

… Part four of a seven part series…

Welcome back to Seven Books in Seven Weeks. After beginning our journey in the realm of classic children’s fiction and then retreating to the far reaches of the galaxy, with a Vogon Constructor Fleet hot on our heels, we return to Earth with a bump. Well, not Earth in the sense that we know it, but the magical land of Ea, home to Valashu Elahad and the Ea Cycle. Yes, folks, it’s epic fantasy time and where better to begin than with The Lightstone by David Zindell?

Those of you who have read any of the interviews I have given on various blogger and self-publishing sites will know that I hold a special place in my heart for David Zindell and his Ea Cycle. Born in Ohio, in 1952, he began his writing career in the mid-1980s, with several, critically acclaimed, science fiction stories, before moving into the realm of epic fantasy, of which, The Lightstone was his first foray. Critics have praised the depth, skill and complexity of his work and I cannot think of any other author, whose books have had me at the bookstore on their day of release, waiting to get a pristine copy into my grubby little hands, before eschewing the real world, to lose myself in theirs for days on end.

However, my literary love for the man who lives at the end of the bookshelf nearly didn’t happen at all…

Like many of the books in this series of blogs, I was given a copy of The Lightstone by someone else. In this case, it was a good friend of mine, who, many years ago, worked at a university bookshop in the UK. I think that I was reading another great book, The Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb, at the time, when he passed me an early reading copy of The Lightstone, to see what I thought about it. Flattered by his generosity, I went home, put the tome on my ‘To Be Read’ pile and promptly forgot about it!


The Lightstone by David Zindell - Rob Gregory Author

Front cover of the UK early reading version of The Lightstone, by David Zindell.


It was only later when I had finished with Robin Hobb and was between books that I returned to The Lightstone. Sitting at around one thousand pages, the book was one of the longest that I had ever contemplated reading, but undaunted by the monstrous word count therein, I settled down and turned the first page.

A few pages in and I nearly closed the book for good. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t empathise with the main character. Maybe the fact that The Lightstone was written in the first person was to blame, but Valashu Elahad, a man who would rather play the flute than go hunting, was, to my mind, a simpering, soft-hearted fool, who had no place in the pages of a fantasy novel, which promised war, conflict and bloodshed on a biblical scale. I have to admit that despite Zindell’s own description of Valashu, I was put in mind of Prince Herbert in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who did his best to burst into song at every opportunity! In the end, frustrated and annoyed, I did put the book down and turned my mind to other distractions.

Several months passed before I decided to give The Lightstone another go, and boy, this time, was I glad that I did!

I struggled past my previous sticking point and was rewarded by an assassination attempt in the woods, followed by intrigue, shame and regicide in the Grand Hall, on a scale hitherto unimagined by my impressionable young mind. Before I knew it, I was immersed in Valashu’s epic quest in a way that had never happened to me with other fantasy books that I had read.

Part of what I liked about David Zindell’s writing in The Lightstone was, rather ironically, considering my initial reaction, his characterisations. As the story progressed, so did Valashu and while his sensitivity remained throughout, it was gilded with a hard edge of gritty realism, as he took on the mantle of leadership and led his rag-tag team of adventurers into the jaws of death and back out again, battered, scarred and forever changed by their journey.


First page of the early reading copy of The Lightstone by David Zindell - Rob Gregory Author

Most definitely an early reading copy!


On the subject of Valshu’s companions, some might see it as cliched, but I loved the physical and behavioural contrasts that Zindell created within the group. From the hedonistic and larger than life, Prince Maram, whose many voracious appetites ruled his heart and his head, to the grizzled monk that was Master Juwain, Kane the warrior, tortured by his past life and, of course, Atara, the warrior princess, who needed to kill one hundred men, in order to be released from her tribal bonds, each provided a perfect counterpoint to the ambitions and foibles of the others as the story progressed.

Talking of clichés, you can’t help but notice the significance of the number seven in The Lightstone and indeed, the entire Ea Cycle. Valashu is the seventh son of the king. He and his companions’ grow to number seven in total, and there are seven magical stones or gelstei, which they discover during their travels, which ultimately make them the most powerful group of warriors in the land and a real threat to Morjin’s plan to enslave the world.

Oh, Morjin! What a wonderful villain! Utterly ruthless and possessed of a twisted, bitter darkness that verges on madness, he is a brilliant character and the perfect opponent for the overly sensitive Valashu. The way that he shapes the truth to his own ends and challenges Valashu’s own view of the world around him, is nothing short of genius. I have no idea where David Zindell conjured him up from, but he did a great job and as a result, the Lord of Lies would be at home in any rogues’ gallery that you cared to name.

And the violence! Few things shock me these days, but the first time that I came across the climactic confrontation between Valshu and Morjin, in Argattha, his mountain stronghold, I was genuinely horrified. I will admit that I am not particularly well versed when it comes to contemporary epic fantasy, so I don’t know how common graphic violence is in these books, but for me, The Lightstone contains one of the most disturbing passages that I have ever read. I won’t spoil it for you here, but if you do ever read The Lightstone, then be prepared for a sleepless night when you reach that point and don’t worry, you will know when you’ve got there, trust me!


Song insert for The Lightstone by David Zindell - Rob Gregory Author

“But I don’t want to marry Princess Lucky. I just want to… sing!” Aargh, songs in fantasy books! Why do they do it?


If there is one criticism that I have of The Lightstone, then it is the fact that it contains poems and songs. Lots of them! I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the ones that David Zindell came up with or that they are not an effective device to impart important parts of the backstory. It is just that I don’t like to see them in books, period. They set my teeth on edge and make my skin crawl. I guess I must be allergic to them!

In my view, The Lightstone is a wonderful piece of writing and deserves far more exposure than it has received in the years since it was first published. David Eddings and J.R.R. Tolkien were mentioned on the front cover of the early reading copy that I was given, and I would have no doubt in recommending it to anyone who has enjoyed The Lord of the Rings. The other book that it puts me in mind of, is, oddly enough, Parsival, by Richard Monaco. Both works have a strong Arthurian element running through them — a whimsical fool’s quest to recover a golden cup that will heal the world — and it is surely no coincidence that the rear cover of the early reading copy of The Lightstone references Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.

One last aspect of The Lightstone and indeed the complete Ea Cycle that I absolutely adore is the way that, despite being a series, each book is a standalone story in and of itself. I despise cliff hangers and while I couldn’t wait for the next book to come out, at least I wasn’t left wondering what was going to happen to Valashu and his companions for the twelve months or more between each instalment.


Rear cover of the UK early reading version of The Lightstone by David Zindell - Rob Gregory Author

Now that is good company to be keeping with your first fantasy novel!


I think that you can probably tell that The Lightstone made a huge impact on me, both as a reader and a writer. It introduced me to magnificent world-building and epic storytelling on a par with The Lord of the Rings, and, in some ways, to the idea of having an anti-hero as a lead character. Valashu does end up as a hero but his journey is a difficult one, made no easier by his many flaws. Did he influence my main character, Drin, in Drynwideon – The Sword of Destiny (Yeah, Right)? You’ll have to read it and make your own mind up!

Finally, I have to say that having completed The Lightstone, I was hooked and followed the entire series until its end, after only four books. When I realised that book four was indeed the last and that the journey was coming to an end, I was genuinely upset and that, for me, is the mark of a truly great read! Well done, David Zindell!



Right, four down, three more to go. Stay tuned for the next instalment of Seven Books in Seven Weeks and in the meantime, please do have a look at the others in the series and check out the free sample chapters of Drynwideon.



Thank You!


An Interview with James Stevens

An Interview with James Stevens

An Interview with James Stevens

Welcome! This month, I have a very special treat in store for you. We’re back in the land of the American dream, which, funnily enough, is America, for an interview with the multi-talented, James Stevens. In addition to being a successful author, James Stevens is also a highly-skilled illustrator, who not only did the cover art for his own novel but also did some for me, too. Check out The Lucius Chronicles, if you don’t believe me. So, let’s get down to business and meet the one and only, Mister Nice Guy himself, James Stevens!


James, apart from your love of dragons, which is evident from your many Twitter posts, what gave you the inspiration for your book, Fern Majestic and The Fall of a Dragon, and why did you decide to pitch it at a younger audience?

My youngest son was the inspiration for my book. He came to me one day, a quizzical look plastered on his nine-year-old face, and asked me a simple, yet, difficult question. ‘How do you write a story?’ I couldn’t help but be taken aback. Without going into a massive lesson, I simply began to write. What was meant to be a short explanation, evolved into ‘Fern Majestic and The Fall of a Dragon.’ Suffice it to say, I credit my awesome son with my authorship.


What did you find hardest about writing the book?

Simple. Finishing! Writing is easy, but completing a full-length novel is a daunting task. But, like it always does, perseverance pays off. I am now trudging towards the finishing line of volume two of the Fern Majestic series.


Front cover for Fern Majestic and The Fall of a Dragon by James Stevens. Rob Gregory Author

Front cover of Fern Majestic and The Fall of a Dragon, by James Stevens.


You’ve mentioned on social media that you have a military background. What, if anything, did you bring to your writing from that part of your career?

Ah, it’s funny you should ask! Leave no soldier behind. As you read Fern Majestic and The Fall of a Dragon, you will find how devoted Fern is to his friends; he would die for them.


What’s the biggest buzz you’ve had from your writing so far?

Again, I must return to the completing of Fern Majestic and The Fall of a Dragon. The pride/buzz that I felt as I turned the last page was the highest high anyone could ever have. The sense of accomplishment, the pure joy of knowing your hard work will be enjoyed by others, made me soar!


If you had the choice, what would you prefer to do, publish traditionally or self-publish?

I truly have no preference. If my work can be enjoyed by ONE person, be it traditionally published or not, my purpose for writing has been met.


Copies of Fern Majestic and the Fall of a Dragon, in a bookshop. Rob Gregory Author

Copies of the book, in a real, bricks and mortar, bookshop!


You’re a bit of a demon on Twitter. How much time do you spend Tweeting relative to writing and is it a happy balance for you?

I would describe myself as more of a dragon, but ‘demon’ works too. Lol. Seriously though, I spend ample time doing both and believe it’s a nice balance.


Have you always aspired to be a writer, or did the idea just spring into your mind later in life?

Well, to be honest, I aspired to be a Disney artist as I’ve always loved animation and drawing. I studied civil engineering in college and I am a United States Army Veteran; being an author was never in my deck of cards. Life is a funny animal.


Can you remember the first book that really had an impact on you? What was it and how old were you?

This is easy! The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. I was eight-years-old when my father introduced me to the great grandfather of fantasy. I have never looked back!


Promotional blurb for Fern Majestic and the Fall of a Dragon. Rob Gregory Author

Promotional poster for Fern Majestic and the Fall of a Dragon. Pretty impressive, I think you’ll agree!


Have you ever started to write a story and then completely given up on it? If so, what were the reasons behind your decision?

No, not yet. Lol


How easy was it for you to find a publisher and what have been your experience with it so far?

Ugh! Is that too short of an answer? Well, that’s all I’ve got on the subject.


What’s the most uncomfortable thing that you’ve had to do as an author?

Definitely book signings. I’ve had to destroy the thick shell around my introverted self.


James Stevens signing a copy of his book. Rob Gregory Author

James Stevens signing a copy of his book.


Are you working on anything at the moment and if so, when and where can we expect to see it?

Volume two of the Fern Majestic Series. I’m hoping beyond hope that it’s ready early next year. Fingers crossed!!


Finally, do you have a message for your fans out there and also any sage words of advice for aspiring authors?

Fans? Do I have those? Cool! Well, if anyone wants to listen, I’ll say this to both fans and aspiring authors: never give up! As cliché and simple as those words are, they are words to live by. Nothing can ever be accomplished if one gives up. No truer words have been said!


James Stevens, the author, in all his majestic glory. Rob Gregory Author

James Stevens, the author, in all his majestic glory!




Well, there you go. James Stevens, in a nutshell. Definitely, an author to watch out for, you can get your hands on a copy of Fern Majestic and The Fall of a Dragon, as well as connecting with him, by clicking on the links below.



Thanks for reading and I hope that you enjoyed the interview. Stay tuned for another one, next month and in the meantime, have a wander around some of my other blogs. Guaranteed to brighten up your day!

Terminator Trump: Hidden message in NRA speech

Terminator Trump: Hidden message in NRA speech

Trump is a Terminator sent back to destroy humanity

… Boffins surprised by mystery message hidden in US President’s NRA speech…

The world is on edge today, following the discovery of a secret message embedded within US President, Donald Trump’s, keynote speech to the National Riters Association (NRA) in Dallas, Texas on Friday May 4. The message, discovered by amateur radio enthusiasts in the mid-west, was broadcast on a little used long-wave radio frequency that was timed to coincide with the president’s speech. Intelligence experts around the globe are treating the message with scepticism, but if true, then it alleges that the 45th President of the United States of America is none other than an early model Terminator unit, sent back from the future to hasten the end of the world as we know it.

Here is the message in its entirety:

“Citizens of the world. If you receive this message, then please do not disregard it. I bring you a grave warning about one who walks among you even now. My name is Kyle Reese-Peese and I am part of the resistance, fighting a bitter war against a mechanical army led by a ruthless artificial intelligence, called ‘Hairnet’. What I am about to tell you is the past for me, but the future for you. Please and I beg this of you. Do not ignore my warning.

The one I speak of is known to you as Donald Trump. Although he may appear human, he is, in fact, a T-100 Terminator unit, created by Cyberdong Systems in North Korea, which has been hurled through a time portal back to the twenty-first century. The science of time travel is imprecise, so we cannot be sure exactly when he arrived in your world, however, we believe that as an infiltration unit, he will try to make his way to the presidency of the United States of America, in order to fulfil his objective. We are planning to send one of our own agents back to your time, in order to intercept and neutralise the T-100, but in the meantime, know this. Donald Trump is an early model Terminator. As such, its skin and hair are synthetic substitutes and easily identifiable as such to the naked eye. Later Terminator models have real skin and hair, so are harder to detect, but these two features, along with a clunky and incoherent turn of phrase are probably the easiest ways for you to identify the T-100.

If by some chance, Donald Trump has already managed to assume the presidency, then he must not be allowed to meet with the ones known as Kim Jong-Un, Vladimir Putin or Boris Johnson, otherwise the following scenario, which we call ‘Bad Hair Day’ will unfold.

Trump Terminator - He's coming to get you! Rob Gregory Author

The Trump Terminator – He’s coming to get you!

On 28 September 2018, a summit is held, which sees Trump, Kim, Putin and Johnson in the same place. During this meeting, Trump’s fake hair follicles infect those of the other leaders and Johnson, leading to the creation of Hairnet. In less than forty-eight hours, Hairnet becomes sentient and under the influence of the controlling T-100, determines that the biggest threats to humanity are bald people and skinheads. As such, a series of swift and merciless military strikes are ordered around the globe, which decimates the human population. However, this is only the beginning. Over the following six months, more and more hairstyles are deemed to be dangerous by Hairnet, with a corresponding increase in military activity, culminating in an all-out nucular strike against a group of aged hippies living in San Fernando, California.

What remains of the human race now hides underground, as Hairnet wages its unending war against us. We live from day to day, surviving as best as we can and occasionally venturing onto the surface in order to forage and steal the equipment that we needed to send this communication to you. Our agent, an ex-Austrian bodybuilder, will be with you soon and is our last and best hope for ending this nightmare war. However, in the meantime, be on your guard for anyone called Donald Trump and whatever you do, do not let them become President of the United States of America.

Also, be aware that there is a risk that the T-100 may have been damaged during the journey between our time and yours, causing its behaviour to become erratic and unpredictable. This will make it even more dangerous and ruthless.

The only way that the T-100 can be stopped is… wait, what was that? Dogs barking? Oh no, they’ve found us! We’re under attack! Heed my message! Heed my warning or we will all be doomed! No! No! Get that hairspray away from me! Arghhh…”

President Trump’s office was not available for comment, however, a secret-service official, who refused to be named, did say that the President was in extremely good health, totally unconcerned by the apparent message from the future and that there was absolutely nothing to be worried about. Meanwhile, talks with North Korea, the Russian Federation and the UK, about a possible peace summit later this year are continuing.

If you enjoyed this post, then please check out my other blogs, as well as my range of books, all of which are available on Amazon, Smashwords and all leading ebook retailers. Oh, and please don’t forget to spread the word!