It’s day 4 of the Preorder Countdown – we’re half-way there!

Today’s treat is the exclusive, never before seen, unedited sample of the Last Dragon King’s manuscript! A sample of Chapter 5, starring Captain Fabius of the Soembing.


The ship’s boards creaked again. Captain Fabius winced at the sound. One hadn’t plied these waters for twenty years without recognizing when a vessel was close to shattering.
            His first officer shared in his concern. With his head tilted towards the creaking, he notched a quick note in his journal.
            “Are you sure we’re in the right place?” Fabius asked, for the fourth time.
            “Either that, or our navigator’s lost her mind,” the first officer replied, for the fourth time.
            Another wave, crested with thick white foam, struck against the ship’s bow with an unearthly wail. Hemmed in between the walls of the grey and black clouds, surrounded by whirlpools, water devils and water spouts, the Soembing stood reluctant against the dark wall of the Sea Maze stretching before it. Its engines purred quietly, just enough to maintain the course – whatever the course was in this forsaken place. Fabius insisted on them running all the time, even if the ship hadn’t changed position for three days, as they waited either for the navigator to correct her mistake, or, by some miracle, the wall of black clouds to open and allow them inside, as it always had, for the past two decades.
            “With all due respect, Captain,” the First said, looking at his notes, “I think it’s fair to say they don’t want us back.”
            “If we turn to Huating, we won’t get any pay for our trouble.”
            “If we move forward, we won’t get any pay ever again,” replied the First, his face soured.
            “Let’s stay a while more. I have a good feeling about today.”
            “Really?” The First raised his eyebrow, then glanced at the Sea Maze. “I’m surprised you’re able to have any good feelings around this place.”
            Fabius nodded in agreement and forced a smile. He knew what the First meant. For twenty years he’d sailed the Ship – in its various incarnations – across the “Divine Winds”, as the locals called them, and he’d never got used to it. The magic of the East always unnerved him with its alien ways, but this was something else altogether. On his first journey, he had been naturally wary of the random storms, the unpredictable currents, the insanity of the compass readings and star charts – all the things the more experienced sailors had warned him about before setting off. But he’d soon learned all of that was just a minor nuisance compared to the real terror of the Maze: the wailing.
            The clouds wailed and howled all through the night. Not the usual howl of a winter wind in the ropes – but a sound that could only be produced by a horde of tormented souls: a piercing cry of anguish, wordless but full of meaning, coming from a thousand suffering throats hidden somewhere in the black clouds. There was no hiding from it: it penetrated into the deepest cabin, into the cargo hold and engine room, through cotton wool and hands covering one’s ears, almost as if it wasn’t coming through the ear canals but entered straight through the brain.
            What nameless Spirits had been tortured to create this monstrosity, Fabius dared not imagine. But it suited what he’d suspected about the Yamato magic in general: abuse of souls, forbidding them from passing beyond the veil of the mortal world to do the bidding of the priests and the shamans. They thought they managed to keep this a secret from the Westerners, but Fabius had heard enough rumours and gossip over the years to piece together the truth.
            He stared at the cloud wall. What’s going on beyond it? The control of the Maze belonged to the government at Edo. Every year, the Dejima Oppertovenaar received an envelope from Edo with coordinates of the secret path leading towards the Kiyō Bay, sealed with the Taikun’s crest. The path was different each year – but it should have stayed unchanged until the next summer. Of course, that was before the civil war erupted in Chinzei, before the Gorllewin landed in Shimoda, before the Soembing was sent out to buy Dracalish weapons for a Yamato warlord… Had the rebels won without them, but didn’t know how to control the Divine Winds? Or was Edo in such chaos that nobody bothered to pay attention to keeping the path open?
            First was right to be concerned. But Fabius couldn’t help feeling the wind would soon change. Maybe it was something in the wailing coming from the wall of clouds – a quality he sensed, rather than heard. Or maybe he was just being stubbornly optimistic for no reason at all.
            “You’re right, it’s hopeless,” he said. “Tell Verle to plan a course for Temasek.”
He heard his men cry out in distress. He turned just in time to see a giant black wave break over the deck.



The Sample Curse

You pick up a book from the shelf. Or download a sample from the Amazon. It starts great. There’s break-neck action from the start, the characters are sketched roughly but believable, the setting is hinted at but not disappointing. You’re convinced. You pay for the book and start reading.

And then, after the first few chapters, it stalls. The plot sags, the characters wander about aimlessly, the scenery overburdens you with too much piled-on detail. You have fallen the victim of the Sample Curse. A book written with the sole purpose of enticing an agent.

In this competitive market, it seems, a Sample is everything. The first few chapters, the first few thousand words. It’s the ultimate lure, a honey trap set for the reader. The publisher – whether a corporate giant or a small indie – is only interested in you until the moment you part with your money. It doesn’t matter what happens next. You’ve been trapped.

Not every agent, editor or publisher is blind-folded like that, but many are, or at least they like to make themselves out to be. And they like to claim this is what the market demands. Perhaps they’re right – for now.

In evolutionary terms, this is equivalent to what fish, amphibians and reptiles do with their young: put all your effort into spawning a lot of eggs, and not worry about the outcome. Perhaps even perish in the process. Some of the eggs will hatch, some of the young will survive – a certain amount of the books will sell and maybe even grow up into bestsellers.

But the amphibians and reptiles do not rule the world. Mammals and birds do, because they take care for their young, nurture them, allow them to develop at their own pace. The really popular books, the ‘cult classics’ are like that: they start off slowly and then grow in a peaceful, nutritious environment into a beautiful rare rhinoceros.

I’d like to hope that the rhinoceroses of the book world will one day prevail over the frogs and that at some point we will be rid of the Sample Curse.