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Hello. My name is Jim Crichton. L.A. has given me the opportunity to serve as his beta reader for Eruption, the second volume in his Conquerors of K’tara series. What I do as an beta reader is to read the next to final draft of the novel chapter by chapter as L.A. produces it and give him my impressions of the plot, the characters, the world building, and other aspects of the story so he can see it from a reader’s perspective. I also help him catch any little inconsistency that might have crept into the story from one part of it to the next. This puts me in an enviable position; not only do I get to read the story several months before the rest of L.A.’s readers do, but I get to talk with him about what I’m reading as he’s writing it. It’s a tremendous privilege.

L.A. has been working hard on Eruption, but life has thrown him the same tremendous obstacles it has thrown so many of us during these unusual times, obstacles which have prevented him from finishing the story on the timetable he had originally set for himself, a timetable which would have had the book in your hands by now. L.A. mentioned recently, at a (virtual) meeting of the Philadelphia science fiction and fantasy writers’ group to which we both belong, how much he hates to make his readers wait to read more of the story, so I got to thinking about it and I asked him if he would permit me to give you a sneak preview of what you can look forward to when Eruption does come out, hopefully in just a few months. I promised I’d be careful not to include any spoilers, and L.A. has kindly agreed to let me reach out to you here, on his author site.

Before I get into the story, let me say that oftentimes the middle book of a trilogy is the weakest of the three. From the fourteen chapters I’ve seen so far, that will decidedly not be the case with Eruption. The first book, Forebodings, started with fascinating world building. The plot, and then the character development, picked up momentum as the story went along. L.A. has carried that momentum forward into Eruption. From its start, I’ve been enjoying what L.A. has been doing with his characters as well as his ongoing world building and the intricacy of his plot.

I’ll start my preview with some hints about how some important characters are faring so far in the chapters I’ve read. First let me tell you about Toras. Because of the costly rashness of some of his command decisions described in Forebodings, his father has sent him an advisor to keep watch on him and, if possible, to moderate his impulsive behavior. This new advisor cannot be described as a “yes man” in any sense of the term. Already, the two have clashed in the middle of a battle over a command Toras has given with which the advisor disagreed. This relationship has the potential to turn explosive. The way I figure it, before long either the fur will really fly or the two will end up staunch friends, or maybe it will be both. It will be fun to watch it happening, whichever way it goes.

You may remember that in Book One Aithen and Elyana were beginning to experience feelings for one another. But both are in very high-profile positions in the kingdom. Both have responsibilities and commitments which come with those positions, responsibilities and commitments which might constrain them from acting on their personal desires. There is widespread distrust of the Lux Baiulae throughout the kingdom. Many Alvinorians, some very powerful, would distrust a ruler too closely aligned with a member of the Sisterhood. And then, there’s the scandalous difference in their ages. But in spite of all this they have already indulged their feelings in small ways. (See Chapter XXIII of Book One for an example.) Their relationship is one L.A. has already explored extensively in Book Two and just wait till you hear the rumors that are flying.

The character I found most interesting in Book One was Lusk Methrim, aka Galdrin, aka Vaedrin Unus. Remember him? He’s the Alterintrant Temptator, spy, and agent provocateur sent by Noctiferus to corrupt the Alvinorian leadership. In Chapter XXI of Forebodings Rania Lux Baiula, whom Lusk is trying to stupefy as she is trying to probe and test him, thinks, “This man will doom us all.” Lusk is a villain; his actions are despicable. But he recognizes that what he is doing is evil and has qualms about doing it even as he does it. We saw in Chapter XXVII of Forebodings that the only reason he has sold his soul to Noctiferus is to save his mother, whom, in return for Methrim’s service to him, Noctiferus is protecting from the degradation she would otherwise be suffering in Zebulonia. In Eruption we learn something more about Methrim; we learn he’s sometimes unable to resist acting on grudges of his own which have nothing to do with the ever more demanding expectations Noctiferus has of him. I’m going to be fascinated to see what happens with this character as the story works toward its climax. He has mixed and very much conflicting motives driving him. This makes him a wildcard, capable of acting out of character, perhaps capable of upsetting the balance of power between the Alvinorians and the Zebulonians in the coming war, or even, perhaps, of upsetting Noctiferus’ ultimate plans for K’tara.

I have to admit that when I read Book One I wasn’t sure what to think of Octavius. At one point I said to myself, “Huh. I can see where Toras got his rash behavior from.” In Chapter XVII of Forebodings he even questions his own actions, asking himself why he “had put himself so completely out of sight and out of touch that not his sons nor his advisor had been able to reach him to alert him of such an ominous event.” (The supposedly slain Serpent’s appearance and attack on Horn’s Pass.) By the end of the book I was still reserving my opinion as to his fitness as a King. In Book Two, L.A. goes into Octavius’ character in much greater detail. We get the chance to observe his political style. We learn about his parenting style. We learn what kind of husband he is. We get to see him interacting with some of his lowlier subjects. And we get to see how he functions in a crisis.

One of the interesting things about the Lux Baiulae is that their fantastic powers, rather than being entirely metaphysical, are based in biology. I think you’ll find interesting a scene in Book Two in which L.A. depicts, in a creative way, the biology involved, and at the same time explores the Red Sash code of honor. At the beginning of Book 2, we see how powers already explored in Book One, along with a few new powers, are used to do amazing things, but some of the Sisterhood’s limitations rear their heads and take on importance to the story too. Book Two also explores the political relationship between the Crown and the Lux Baiulae to a greater extent than Book One did. If you enjoy reading about the subtleties of political alliances, you’ll enjoy this part of the story. In fact, the alliance between Alvinoria and Kynaria also gets increasingly complicated in Book Two.

If you’re like me, you enjoyed all the strange creatures L.A. introduced in Forebodings: the biters and bleaters and chirpers, the honkers and howlers and nibblers, the ever dangerous belwohrs and rokons, the domesticated vorans and furans which serve the Alvinorians as mounts on the ground and in the air respectively. And then there are the gnarlers and the Locari, both of which are back, and have an important role to play in Book Two. If you need to refresh your memory concerning the gnarlers– those poisonous quill producing and hurling raiders who gave fierce battle to Toras and killed a number of his men and furans in Book One–you can check that battle out again in Chapter XVIII of that volume. In Book Two, you’ll find out that they’re going to be a thorn in Toras’ side for some time to come, and that there’s a lot more to learn about them than you might have assumed. The Locari, on the other hand, are the highly intelligent and civilized water-dwelling species with whom Aithen meets in secret in their native undersea realm. You can read up on them in Chapter XXIII of Book One. They warned Aithen, in Book One, that there is a traitor among the Lux Baiulae. In Book Two, he has to decide whether to betray his relationship with them by passing on the warning.

Do you enjoy attending festive social events in the fantasy worlds you visit? There are two of them in the first fourteen chapters of Eruption, a banquet and ball, and a big military commissioning ceremony combined with the opening ceremonies of a major endurance race that may be the rough cultural equivalent of the Iditarod dog sled race or the Tour de France bicycle race in our world. Big festive social events offer spies, saboteurs and agents provocateur such rich environments in which to sow their chaos. They’re fertile grounds for gossips and habitual troublemakers. Dangers do indeed lurk in the crowds at these events; beware.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief description of coming attractions. If so, let L.A. know. Perhaps he’ll host more reader discussions of his stories here on his site if you’d enjoy more of this kind of content. Before I finish, a reader of one of my own novels recently asked me which of its characters I identify most closely with. She made three guesses, none of which was correct; but all three of them were really good guesses. It was an interesting question. I think she enjoyed guessing. Afterward I decided to ask L.A. the same question about his Conquerors of K’tara characters. Perhaps you’d like to guess what his answer was. And if you let him know what your guesses are, perhaps he’ll post his answer and comment on your guesses here on this site.

J. Crichton