Hey there, Awesome Readers, and thanks for joining us here at The Novel Approach Reviews. Today we’ve got DSP Publications author Clare London here to tell us about the 2nd Edition release of her Fantasy novel Branded. She’s also been kind enough to bring us an excerpt. But first, let’s have a look at what Branded is all about:
Maen is a Gold Warrior, an elite defender of Aza City, respected by his fellow soldiers and favored by his imperious Mistress for services both in and out of the bedchamber. His loyalty and commitment are unwavering until he recruits Dax, a captivating and challenging Bronzeman who, despite his youth and inexperience, seduces Maen with his fierce hero worship. When they’re captured by enemies of the City, Maen risks everything to save Dax: his position, his faith, and even his life. But he loses his lover to the rebels and upon his return to the City is stripped of his rank.
In Aza, where a soldier’s only lawful devotion is to the City and his Mistress’s pleasure, the disgraced Maen is placed under the watchful guard of the arrogant Gold Warrior Zander and relegated to preparing a Royal History for the new Queen. But his discoveries cast a new and shocking light on the past and threaten to stir revolution in both citizens and rebels. With the help of the lively and inquisitive scribe Kiel, Maen initiates a chain of events that will change their world forever—and offer him the chance to regain both his honor and his heart’s desire.
Carole: Wow, sounds like a rich and detailed fantasy world. And it’s pretty much the one that started it all for you. Tell us what drew you to the Fantasy genre.
Clare: I never thought of myself as writing in a genre. Admittedly, Branded was my first published novel, and I was just so tickled to be published, that I never thought about categories and niches. It was a story I had in mind, and wanted to tell. Lovely to be that naïve again, eh? Since it was first published, I’ve written other novels in other genres, and I’ve also reworked Branded for this year’s release. So I have a much better idea of the market this should appeal to, and the readers I’d like to reach. I would call this a fantasy novel, first and foremost. There are strong elements of romance, of military action, of angst, of humour, of sex, of politicking, and yes, even chemical warfare! Writing it was a wonderful adventure, and a really empowering feeling to immerse myself in a very different world. I hope to take the reader on a journey there too.
Carole: It sounds like Branded takes care of that just fine. So tell us what about it you think should appeal to this particular audience.
Clare: Branded is a book about a man. Yes, there are plenty of other characters! and there’s another man he falls in love with, and there are men and women he loves, likes, fights and negotiates with along the way. But it’s all about Maen’s personal journey from complacent servant to bemused but empowered free man. He’s always had the intelligence to question his place in the world, but he’s never really done this until Dax comes along, his new and rebellious recruit. And then the scales fall from Maen’s eyes, slowly but very steadily. He becomes a true hero, even if it’s reluctant at first. But he always has the potential: his own Mistress Luana and, after her, the Queen Seleste, both see that in him. His loyal soldiers respect him, his enemies are in awe of him – and Dax moves from a starstruck acolyte to his very devoted lover.
Carole: So action, adventure, love and intrigue. Awesome and very diverse. Which brings us to the next point: diversity in fiction is so important these days. Tell us how you define “diversity” in your writing, and how you explored it in this book.
Clare: I’ve never wanted to write a very different planet or race of beings, as in a SF book, but in Branded I wanted to write a very different world, yet one that still resonated with contemporary life. Even in Aza City, I wanted the characters to portray the common traits we find in everyone, regardless of age, race, creed, gender… There’s trust and love and betrayal and passion a-plenty. These are men and women who accept familiar and less familiar sexual relationships, whose cultural rules are different from today’s world yet based on the same themes of power and control, whose partnerships aren’t always of equal match, yet can still be heroic in their own way.
Carole: Branded is being published through DSP Publications, Dreamspinner Press’s imprint for genre novels that don’t conform to the romance formula. Tell us about the relationship in Branded and why it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of Romance in the M/M genre.
Clare: The relationship between Maen and Dax in Branded is a romance, but it’s much more. It’s a teacher/pupil relationship as well – they each learn from the other – and also an illustration of the way their world is turned on its head, largely because of their intervention. The book also includes a complex series of relationships for Maen – from his controlling Mistresses, to his casual couplings with his fellow soldiers, to his startling and life-threatening attraction to Dax. It doesn’t follow the one-to-one theme of a traditional romance novel, though I believe the loyal love between the men shines throughout. For all these reasons, a home at DSP Publications gives it the opportunity to be exactly what it wants to be.
Carole: Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys, Clare! 😉 Okay, so you’ve got some interesting names for your characters in this. What went into naming them? Do the names have significance?
Clare: Tremendously! Maen is named for the Welsh word for rock, because that’s what he is to everyone in the book, at least until he starts to consider his own needs as well as others’. And even then, he’s still as solid at the core as before – but stronger in will and determination. I love to find names that mean something, that reflect the hero’s character.
Carole: Sounds like a lot of research went into the names, so we assume there must have been a lot more for the novel as a whole. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Clare: This is an interesting question, because my Hubby always claims he did all the research on Branded! Needless to say, he ignores the 180k words I wrote on it myself LOL. But it did stem from a discussion between us when we were looking at the bees in our garden one summer. It’s fascinating how their community operates – a single queen, a woman in charge, the one on whom the future of the race rests. And then the males and drones, only there to service her… and so the idea for Aza City took even firmer shape.
Carole: Amazing what one small happenstance can spawn, isn’t it? Thanks so much for joining us today, Clare, and thanks so much to all you Awesome Readers for tagging along.
Buy links for Branded can be found at the bottom of the post, but before you run off to get your copy, Clare’s generously brought us an excerpt, so please enjoy the following scene from the Fantasy novel Branded.
Excerpt: I hadn’t seen Dax alone since our discussion in the hall. I’d been more than disturbed at his misconceptions then—his misunderstanding of how things were. I had to ignore the strange gnawing in my mind, that maybe the city wasn’t run quite as I had always believed. I had to, else I’d have to question everything about my life.
“Dax? Why are you here? It’s horsemanship training today. Fremer is your mentor.”
He cast his gaze down as if he were ashamed in front of me. “I know, sir. I mishandled a horse. I was thrown, and Fremer was displeased with me. He’s taken the beast to calm it down, and I’m to await my lashes here.”
I stared at him as he colored. It was well within Fremer’s authority to order punishment for students who misbehaved or performed badly, though limited to five lashes at any time. For anything else, I’d need to be consulted. I remembered that first day, when I’d had Dax whipped for his ill behavior, and I wondered how many other times his trainers had chastised him. He was a promising recruit indeed, but I doubted he was an easy student for anyone. My mind filled with the thought of the broad young body under his tunic and what marks there might already be across his back.
He looked up at me again, the white hair brushing at his neck, the eyes steadying as he gathered his courage around him. “Please accept my apologies, sir. I won’t make that error again. I hope you won’t think too badly of me when Fremer reports the day to you. I… I’m so eager to do well, but I let things run away from me sometimes.”
“I believe you do, Dax. I understand your passion, boy—”
“Do you?” He interrupted so abruptly that I was momentarily shocked.
“Silence!” I snapped, and he flinched. “Else there’ll be more lashes to look forward to, and they’ll be from my hand! I wanted to say that I understand your passion, but it’s discipline you must master. That’s your weakness and will be your undoing.”
He flushed again. “I know, sir,” he replied in a low voice. Its hoarseness made him sound much older than his years. “But then I think ‘what’s the worst they can do to me?’”
I stared. “The worst? You could be lashed into unconsciousness, and I couldn’t guarantee your limbs would ever be sound again. Or dismissed from the Guard and have to return to the Remainders. In an extreme case, you could be exiled.” I’d not meant to be so harsh, but he made the anger rise in me too quickly. I heard the echo of my breath in the silent stables. It sounded ragged.
He’d turned white. “I know of men who’ve been exiled,” he whispered. “Sir, I’d never be allowed back in the city, would I? I’d never see….”
His voice trailed off. I had to ask. “Dax, what do you know of the Exiles? Do the Remainders know more than the Household? Do you personally know of people who have deserted the city?”
“Deserted? Is that what the tale is? That people run away, that they accept exile, that they seek it?” He saw the flame of anger in my face, and he groaned aloud. “Forgive me, sir. But perhaps I can’t answer your questions and still remain submissive to you. Which do you want? An obedient, pliant Bronzeman who chants the Devotions to you on request, or someone who wants your respect and wants to learn from you, and wants to talk to you about these things as a man, not a child?”
I was astonished. Never had any recruit spoken to me in such a way! I stepped forward and grasped his arm. It brought his body very close to mine, and I felt his heat. He’d grown since he joined us, and he was probably near his full height by now. His head came above my shoulder; his eyes stared into mine, startled and maybe fearing.
“Sir, forgive me. But you were told that the Exiles were people who couldn’t work in the city, who couldn’t give their commitment to the Queen. Weren’t you?”
“They—” I didn’t know why I felt I should answer him, but I did. “They were original colonists turned out of the city because they couldn’t adapt. They’ve bred a community of sorts, though without all the advantages we have here, and sometimes others join them. Rejects, misfits.”
Dax’s face twisted with his emotions.The dark blue depths of his eyes drew me in and I was distracted by the brush of his hair against his neck. “Maybe that was correct originally, sir, but there are many who’ve joined them since. And not just the rejects, not just the prisoners.” He met my questioning gaze steadily. “The rumors tell of people who’ve left the city voluntarily, men and women. For a different way of life.”
We stared at each other for a moment, both shocked by the conversation. Dax cleared his throat, still standing at attention, legs braced on the bare floor of the stables. “Will you punish me now, sir?”
I was a moment in replying. My tongue felt heavy and awkward in my mouth. “No, Dax. I asked for your reply, and I’ll listen to it, whether I agree with it or not. I’ll not punish you for that.”
His eyes widened again, but now there was a flash of deep pleasure in them. “Thank you, sir.”
Author Bio: Clare London took her pen name from the city where she lives, loves, and writes. A lone, brave female in a frenetic, testosterone-fueled family home, she juggles her writing with her other day job as an accountant.
She’s written in many genres and across many settings, with award-winning novels and short stories published both online and in print. She says she likes variety in her writing while friends say she’s just fickle, but as long as both theories spawn good fiction, she’s happy. Most of her work features male/male romance and drama with a healthy serving of physical passion, as she enjoys both reading and writing about strong, sympathetic, and sexy characters.
Clare currently has several novels sulking at that tricky chapter three stage and plenty of other projects in mind… she just has to find out where she left them in that frenetic, testosterone-fueled family home. Clare loves to hear from readers, and you can contact her at the links below.