It’s all right. I haven’t created a new contemporary urban fantasy franchise with sparkly Greek heroes battling emo lycanthropes in high school. But hold on while I just make a note of that….
No, this post is going to be about my next two books for Osprey Adventures. If you haven’t heard of Osprey Adventures before, the legendary military history publisher has been branching out with two new lines aimed – at least partly – at gamers and fantasy fans.
Osprey Myths and Legends does exactly what it says on the tin. This series presents the world’s greatest heroes (and monsters) in the classic Osprey format, combining well-researched text with lavish illustration and high production values. My first book in this series, Thor: Viking God of Thunder, was well received (click here for some links to reviews), so I was asked to write another – on Theseus and the Minotaur this time. It’s scheduled for release on November 18th and features some stunning color plates by Jose Pena.
I guess I was seven or eight years old when I first discovered this tale. I had become obsessed with Greek mythology after discovering a children’s retelling of Homer’s Odyssey in my school library and seeing a Saturday-morning rescreening of Ray Harryhausen’s 1963 classic Jason and the Argonauts on TV. Over a decade later, my first game of Dungeons & Dragons featured a fatal encounter with a minotaur. Along the way, I also read about Theseus’ early adventures on the road to Athens. But when I got stuck into the research for this book, I discovered something intriguing. Well, two things, actually.
The first is that Greek myths used the comic-book technique of “retconning.” After he became the Official Hero of Athens, Theseus began to pop up in the adventures of Hercules and various other heroes, usually in a minor role. He was one of the super-team that took part in the Hunt for the Calydonian Boar, along with his faithful sidekick Pirithous. He appears as a wise and compassionate King of Athens in the tragic tale of Oedipus. A few writers even tried to add him to Jason’s companions aboard the Argo, but some serious timeline problems prevented their attempts from sticking. He was too old for the Trojan War, but a couple of his sons were among the Greek troops in the legendary wooden horse.
The other intriguing thing is that the core of the Theseus myth looks like it could be an allegory. Theseus lived – if he lived – at a time when Athens was growing in power and throwing off Minoan and Mycenaean cultural and economic domination of the Greek mainland. It was developing its own distinctly Greek identity, which would become the template for Classical Greek culture. There is evidence for a war – or at least a raid – led by Athens in which the famous Minoan palace of Knossos was burned. And some ancient sources refer to a Cretan general with the name, or nickname, of Taurus, the Bull. Likewise, the six enemies Theseus defeated on his journey to Athens could be seen as symbols of the various independent city-states that Athens assimilated as its influence spread across Attica. There’s little if any definitive proof that the myth of Theseus is based on actual historical events, but the coincidences do seem to be telling a consistent story, and it made my dormant archaeological reflex twitch.
The second book, Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide, is for the Dark Osprey line which focuses on horror and conspiracy, and follows on from earlier volumes about Zombies and Vampires. I collected werewolf legends and trial reports from across Europe and researched shapechanger myths worldwide to paint a picture of lycanthropy that expands upon what you will find in most movies, games, and novels. It touches on the standard fare – silver, the moon, Viking berserkers, SS werewolves, and so on – but I also uncovered a few surprises. Like, for instance, the fact that there are at least four distinct types of werewolf, each with its own unique characteristics. And the Greek tradition that a dead werewolf rises from the grave as a vampire. And the ancient werewolf cult that centers on Mount Lykaion in Greece.
Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide is scheduled for release in March 2015, and there are some interesting titles scheduled for both of Osprey’s non-historical ranges.
Osprey has also expanded into wargames with an interesting and growing range of rule sets presented in slim, affordable books. There are historical rules, of course, but they also cover mythology, steampunk, and Hong Kong action movies. My personal favorite is Of Gods and Mortals, a compact and tidy little skirmish game in which the gods of various mythologies can take to the battlefield as super-units, accompanied by mortal and monstrous followers. It has a very neat mechanic which makes gods and mortals heavily interdependent.
Osprey Publishing has a long-standing reputation for quality that is very well deserved. I’m very happy to see them expanding into these new areas, and even happier to play a modest part myself. Check out the links below. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t find at least one title that surprises and intrigues you.
If you read my blog from anywhere in the Euro-zone, this might be of interest. I’ve just discovered that Amazon.de has the (English) Kindle version of “Thor: Viking God of Thunder” marked down to 0,99 Euros.
After I finished writing Thor: Viking God of Thunder, Osprey Publishing asked me to write a Templar conspiracy title for their Dark Osprey line. Knights Templar: A Secret History is due for release later this month, and pre-orders are open on your favorite online retailer. The first review I’ve seen tells me the finished product lived up to my intentions, which is always nice to know.
I had a lot of fun writing this book. As well as poking about in the dark corners of history, I was able to spend time reviewing the history of the Templar conspiracy phenomenon and add a brand new one of my own devising. I deliberately refrained from making up any historical facts – that would be too easy – but I really let myself go when drawing conclusions from them. It was something like kitbashing, a modeling term for the process of assembling parts from different kits in a way the designers never intended and producing an entirely new plane, tank, or whatever.
This isn’t my first book on the Templars. The Colonial Gothic Templars sourcebook was a similar exercise on a smaller scale, geared to the needs of the game and focusing on Templar activity in the North American colonies during the Revolutionary War era. This new book suffers no such restrictions, and I trace the Templars – and the Holy Grail – across the Atlantic and back again as they engage in a three-way secret war with the Vatican and the Freemasons. Are the Templars using the European Union to create a global state ruled by a heretical religion? Read the facts and judge for yourself.
I posted earlier about Thor: Viking God of Thunder, which I wrote for Osprey Publishing’s new Myths and Legends line. It was a lot of fun to research and write, and I guess that must show because it’s getting some great early reviews. I just received a very excited email from my editor, Joseph McCullough, to let me know that it has won a coveted Kirkus starred review. If you subscribe to Kirkus, you can read it here.
The book is due for release on September 17, and it’s currently available to preorder from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and, as they say, all good booksellers. I recently received an advance copy, and I have to say it looks absolutely gorgeous. The team at Osprey did a bang-up job with the graphic design and layout.
The Vikings have been good to me down the years. When I couldn’t find a grant to fund my Ph.D. research on the British Bronze Age, Chris Morris at Durham University found me a job processing material from his excavation of two Viking farms in the Orkneys. My first freelance project after leaving Games Workshop in 1990 was writing GURPS Vikings for Steve Jackson Games, and a decade later Steve asked me to create an expanded second edition: it’s still selling steadily as an ebook. My first video game contract was to write some Viking storylines for Interplay’s historical strategy game add-on Castles: The Northern Campaign. A few years after that, The Creative Assembly contracted me as a writer and researcher on the Viking Invasion expansion for their acclaimed PC strategy game Medieval: Total War: the add-on garnered some very good reviews and led to more freelance work and a job offer. More recently, and in a more light-hearted vein, the Russian mobile game developer AILove hired me to develop the characters and dialogue for their arcade-y Viking Tales iPhone game.
I’m currently working on a second Myths and Legends book for Osprey, and having even more fun. This one is on a Greek myth, and I’m finding all kinds of interesting corners to poke around in. More news on that when Osprey makes the official announcement.