“The Heir of Night”: Keeping It Real with Armour and Weapons

As a kid, I always loved armour and weapons. We lived in Singapore for some years, too, so in addition to western traditions including medieval armour, then cuirassiers, and later the long rifle, I was also aware of oriental armour and weaponry. I even had a Chinese sword—imitation, of course—and horse rider’s composite bow. From endless childhood games in which wars and battles were re-enacted, it is perhaps not surprising that I graduated to fencing during my high school and university years. As an adult, I trained first in tai chi and kung fu, and then the Japanese martial art aikido, which involves both “empty hand” training and weapons, including the Japanese sword, knife, and staff.

Perhaps because of this background, when I was writing The Heir of Night, I always had a very clear vision of the armour and weapons used by the characters, as well as the other aspects of their physical appearance, their back stories, and their magical powers. The armour worn by the warriors of the House of Night, for example, is predominantly European in character, from the period where armour was transitioning from chainmail to full plate armour. So the Honor Guards of the Earl of Night wear chainmail hauberks, but with plate breast- and backplates, gorgets and vambraces. They carry straight swords and their bows are either the longbow or the crossbow—and it is this concept of armour and weaponry that you see reflected in the figure of Malian, the Heir of Night, on the Australian/New Zealand cover.

Although the action of The Heir of Night is centred around the people known as the Derai, and the House of Night in particular, the warriors of Night are not the only characters in the book who bear arms. The herald, Tarathan of Ar, who comes from the wider Haarth world, beyond the Wall of Night, does not wear amour, but he carries two short “swallowtail” swords, which would look familiar to those who know the Chinese butterfly swords. He also uses a composite bow when on horseback, such as those used in Asia, but also by the nomadic peoples that crossed into the European steppes, including the Huns and the Sarmatians.

Strictly speaking, because I am writing Fantasy, I am not required to adhere rigidly to one system of weapons. But in both The Heir of Night and my first novel, Thornspell, I found it easier to maintain continuity and authenticity if I stuck loosely to an historical period for my armour and weaponry. I have also been asked to what extent my martial arts background influences my writing and I believe it goes without saying that it must. Weapons, armour, martial arts, telling fantastic stories—these are all things that I love, and have loved, for a long time. I also believe that it helps to write about weapons, and using weapons, if you understand the physicality of picking up a sword or a bow, of “wearing” what happens when you miss your strike or are outwitted by an opponent—or conversely, how it feels when you are the one who prevails.

In the end, I believe everything in writing comes back to authenticity and this is no less true of fantasy: do your world and your characters, your use of magic and weapons feel credible to the reader? I hope my own enduring love of weapons and armour, as well as my fun with fencing, kung fu and aikido, have helped, not just to create the grim world of the Derai warrior caste, but to “keep it real.”

Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet and interviewer. She holds a second dan black belt in the martial art aikido and fenced for her university as an undergraduate. Her first novel, Thornspell, (Knopf, 2008) won the 2009 Sir Julius Vogel Award for “Best Novel, Young Adult”, and Helen was awarded the Sir Julius Vogel for “Best New Talent” in the same year. Her second novel, The Heir of Night, the first of the adult WALL OF NIGHT quartet, was published on 7 October in Australia and New Zealand, with UK publication scheduled for March 2011. Helen also blogs on the first of every month on the Supernatural Underground and every day on her own Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog.