I have just finished Freya Pickard’s Dragonscale Leggings, an entertaining tale of a woman from our world waking up one day in an alternative reality as a dragon slayer with amnesia. Written as a journal, there is humour and imagination, an original take on dragons, a fiercely independent female lead, and a playful twist on Arthurian legend.
This is not a review, although I would be happy to recommend it. (Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan will even get to sing along in places.) Reading Dragonscale Leggings, however, has stirred up a lot of thoughts about my own debut novel, Kings of Infinite Space, and the themes and influences.
Fred Saberhagen’s Empire of the East fantasy series is set in a distant future of gods, wizards and magic, with occasional references to a near-future nuclear war. A transformation of the world turned nuclear explosions into powerful, terrifying demons, and artificial intelligences into gods.
Reading this as a young boy, the most fascinating thing was the twelve swords forged by the god Vulcan in the Books of Swords series (set in the same fantasy future as Empire of the East). Shieldbreaker would fight furiously and invincibly so long as there were armed enemies. Stonecutter would cut through stone like butter – an idea I borrowed inadvertently when writing Kings of Infinite Space, where I have a knife that cuts easily through stone.
Whether I consciously copied the concept, I don’t know. (Arguably the original stone-cutting blade was Excalibur.) Many other borrowed elements made their way into Kings of Infinite Space. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Herbert’s Dune series, and Niven’s Ringworld were huge influences. Then again, so were Ovid and Euripides and, indirectly, Dante. And all those papers and books on Aegean Bronze Age archaeology that I was absorbed in at the time.
Another influence was Saberhagen’s Books of Swords series, not the stone-cutting blade (or the magical swords, or the wizards and dragons) so much as the idea of the Emperor, a mysterious and powerful wanderer whose abilities and intentions are far beyond any other character’s – or even any reader’s – understanding. Gandalf in The Hobbit is much like this, as of course is the Doctor in Dr Who, and such mysterious strangers pop up in fairytales all the time. In Kings of Infinite Space, I have the Dancer, Bas’Lillene, who has subtly influenced events for thousands of years.
Which brings me back at last to Dragonscale Leggings and the mysterious Sama Conn, a wandering bard who seems to be the only person who knows what’s really going on. But this story is only the beginning…