pinterest-7bf66.html Reviews by Peter: Guest Post: Michael Boncher And His Akiniwazi Saga Series

Friday, 26 January 2018

Guest Post: Michael Boncher And His Akiniwazi Saga Series

I came across novelist Michael Boncher in an author's Facebook group where he was seeking advice from fellow authors relating to the covers of his novel, A Light Rises in a Dark World. I checked it out and was impressed with the evidence of detailed world building and an epic fantasy plot. I bought this book straight away and decided to invite Michael to talk about this trilogy and its worldbuilding. 

So sit back and let Michael guide you through his trilogy and how he has woven a Christian worldview into it. 

Over to you, Michael!

Thank you, Peter for allowing me the opportunity to share the creative foundations that you will discover in the setting of "Akiniwazi Saga: A Light Rises in a Dark World".

Hello, I'm M.D. Boncher, an aspiring writer from Green Bay, Wisconsin. To pay the daily bills, I am a Night Logistics Admin for now. I have been steeped in the storytelling tradition since I rolled up my first character for Basic Dungeons &Dragons, thirty-eight years ago. I have written off and on for decades, everything from comic books and RPG manuals, Action/Adventure to Horror, to Cyberpunk and Space Opera short stories and novellas. The Akiniwazisaga is my first published work.

Now let's have a look at the first novel in the Akiniwazi Saga:

A rejected boy who only desires his father's approval.

A band of children sold by their parents for food.

A disgraced monk and his dog sent on one last quest.

A Faith ready for revolution.

Two civilizations of spirits and steam trapped in a war they cannot end.

In Akiniwazi, the Land of the Seven Freshwater Seas, the war between Heaven and Hell is joined, and all souls hang in the balance.

I asked Michael what type of Christian themes are in "A Light Rises in a Dark World"?

At first, I was inspired by what I could not have. I love fantasy, but even then I have to be very careful about it because certain themes and subjects are not spiritually healthy to me due to my walk with God. That means lots of popular fantasy subjects and stories are off limits if I pay attention in the spirit. 

Most fantasy is now off limits to me and began to upset me for it seemed all the games and books or movies I wanted to experience turned out to have such a foundation. I was not familiar with the amount of Christian fantasy so much and what I did find often preached a sermon before getting to the story. That was not what I wanted. This is what drove me to consider writing Christian Fantasy.

My central themes run around redemption, hope and following your individual walk with God. My characters are broken, defeated characters that need to come to terms with their situation and see how God can use these and how it is all part of a greater plan. Reimar and Finn are in many ways flip sides of the same walk of faith. One just starting out, and the other deep into his journey. 

This theme of redemption includes the land of Akiniwazi as a whole. From the individual to the nations of Forsamling and Skaerslinger who are trapped together and are struggling to survive the other. 

Originally, this was going to be only a trilogy, but it now looks as if it will become a nonology (nine book series) to cover the story arc of not only my main character but an epoch of history in a land undergoing a great transformation. You won't see all of this in just one book, mind you. It is an evolving thing that will connect all the upcoming books as well

Four thought experiments became the core philosophies of the world I created.

1. How can literal Christianity be used as a spiritual basis for fantasy?

The first hurdle for me was that I wanted literal Christianity in my fantasy. After 30 years of playing role-playing games, I knew the conventions of the genre. Monsters, unknown lands, ancient mysteries, "magic systems"... all the tropes. Most of which are antithetical to Bible. I also wanted to use actual scripture from time to time, particularly in spiritual battles that would be part of the setting instead of making up gibberish or pagan mantras I would use scripture. That required Israel, Judea, Babylon and Rome to be as we knew them in the real world.

The answer came with the realization that till around 800AD, the entire western hemisphere was "off the map". That fitted perfectly for my needs. If I wanted to make a fantasy world, that was where I could play! I could create new continents and leave Asia, Europe and Africa as we knew them! Tada! Literal Christianity and a fantasy land that nobody knew. I then isolated them behind a sea of ice thanks to a geological disaster tied into the same period as the "Little Ice Age". This allowed their society to grow independently and gave me much more flexibility while preserving the history of the Old World.

The problem then rose of what would a "Magic System" look like? The D&D mindset is a hard thing to get around. Readers expect it. On the other hand, we have Spiritual Warfare/Deliverance Ministry/Exorcism. The key to reconciling this was to give the Gifts of the Spirit the "This is Spinal Tap" treatment and turn the special effects "up to 11". This would make them more dramatic and more akin to trope appropriate fantasy magic more palatable to the public.

All things supernatural in Akiniwazi are based on a relationship with the divine/demonic. If something impossible is happening, there is a demon or angel doing it. I knew that people who would play the setting wanted "Magic like coal" as I thought of it. Akiniwazi does not do 

2. What if the Vikings colonized North America?

Once freed from North and South America as is in the real world. The Vikings, being the first discoverers from the "Old World" who came to the land became my focus and worked out very well historically. This is where history in the setting changes from our literal past to the fantasy. I did research on the era the Viking era and their Christianization, the Monastic orders that would have done most of the missionary work of the Church during that era. Blending in other trends of the era helped to create the Forsamling, who are the Viking descendants of the setting was a lot of fun.

3. How does Great Lakes/ Lumberjack Lore, myth and mystery lend itself to fantasy?

I also love my local history. I'm a Wisconsinite. "A Cheesehead, born and bred" I like to joke. I love reading about the history of the upper midwest, and realized that there were great resources to be mined for an atypical fantasy setting. I deliberately looked up old Indian tales and myths as well as the lumberjack lore. I found a Bestiary of forgotten folklore creatures you never see in fantasy novels. Creatures people do not consider because they are too modern despite having long histories, or just like Paul Bunyan, silly tall tales. They became the basis for fantastical monsters I use from time to time. Never expect a dragon, goblin or elf in this setting. Nor will you see the usual old world traditional Viking fairies and trolls which may be explained some book in the future. Get ready for Draugr, Manitou and Thunderbirds.

This also lead to the creation of the map being a re-envisioning of the upper midwest of the US and Canada with the Great Lakes as its center. The Name Akiniwazi came from a corruption of the Ojibwae terms for "Land of the Seven Freshwater Seas". 

4. What if a society discovered steam power without discovering gunpowder?

I blame Sid Meier for this one. While playing a game of Civilization a decade ago, I managed to discover steam power before getting gunpowder. There was the map. Ironclads and pikemen side by side with railroads soon to come. That made me wonder what a society with steam and sword would look like, so I coined the term "Fantasteam". But when it comes to steampunk styling, I demanded realism. With the supernatural always attached to a spirit, I decided that all steam creations must be grounded in realism. Therefore you get steamships and primitive railroads, but no "Steamboy" or "Wild Wild West" super steam creations that could never exist in the real world. This was an area I decided must be "hard science" once you get around the fact they discovered this technological leap about four centuries early. 

I spent years cobbling together the names of the setting, its map and features. I took inspiration from Old Norse, Norwegian, Icelandic, Inuit, Finnish, Swedish, Danish to create flavor of the setting for the Forsamling Vikings (The name means "Congregation"), and named their language "Noerrent" which some of my research said was a common name used in the language of that era. For this reason, I provide what I'm now starting to call my "Encyclopedia Akiniwazi" in the back of the book to help pars the terms, meanings and pronunciations of the book. It his constantly being referred to by myself for names as well as reminding me pronunciations. I erred on the side of historical adherence rather than convenience of American readers.

I also had the natives who lived here before the Viking's arrival to create with. I decided to mash together several aboriginal cultures but centered mostly on the woodland tribes as a model, but included inspiration for the Incas, Mayans, Carib, Sami, Hopi, Huron, Inuit, Aborigine, Picts and others from around the world who were encountered by emigrating cultures. Ojibwe was chosen as the basis for the languages of this fantasy tribe who I called "Skaerslinger". Ironically, years after I named them, I came across the name "Skraeling", which was the term given to the Inuits by Greenland Vikings. The term roughly means "Rough" or "Rude" fellows. Funny how that all works out?

To present the world that was stuck in my head, I decided the only way left to share the world was to follow the life of two characters, a ten-year-old boy named Reimar and his unlikely mentor, Brother Finn. Together they provide a view of the world both innocent and cynical, and how their trials help them to heal their own wounds as well as the others.

The following excerpt is one of my favorite scenes that I wrote early on. It touches on many things that make the scenario different (You will notice there are no horses as one detail!) The scene blends the Fantasteam elements and the nature of the supernatural throughout the setting.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~Start of Excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bright light blasted Reimar awake as another train thundered by. He gasped and jerked back from the sight. Once it was past and he could think again, he saw another train behind them stopped on a siding. Dawn's dim light was just coloring the eastern edge of the sky a pale blue. Their train crawled alongside a slow-moving river. It was wide and shallow, thick with reeds and mud bars. Fishing boats were casting nets out on the water while other fishermen dug for clams on the shores. A steam knarr trailed a plume of thick black smoke and hugged the far shore while pulling a barge, her decks piled high with cargo between a pair of huge arches that followed the length of the shallow drafted boat. The fore and aft figureheads were flanked by long raised gangplanks. Its center mast was replaced by a tall smokestack which belched sparks to the waning night.

The train was travelling down a long gentle slope to the water's edge. In the distance ahead the first hints of a town could be seen. Overhead seagulls circled and headed out over the lake to fish. Off to the east, huge back-lit clouds could be seen. As winter approached, storms were frequent and powerful. Reimar wondered if this was a storm on the way or just an unseasonably warm day.

The forest had been thick, tight up against the ribbon road, with branches hanging over the tracks from the land side, but the trees and brush on the shore side were cut back sharply as they came closer to a town. Fisherman's shanties and farmer's sod houses were now scattered through the thinned pinery with slices of cleared land that up came to the ribbon road.

As they approached the port of Meidrhvall, the temperature began a noticeable drop. The boundless waters of Lake Neezhoday controlled the weather around its shores for many miles inland. A narrow road came out of the thinning forest and wove through the trees next to the train. Farmer's carts, piled high with harvest goods, were going into town as morning brightened. Some kusken had teams of oxen that were pulling very large dray wagons, but most were carts drawn by two or four llamas, and a post rider trotted along on a caribou. Some animals baulked at the train's passing, but most ignored it, content to keep plodding along.

The Port of Meidrhvall was the largest city the children had ever been to. Only a few hundred souls resided there but that was more people than they had ever seen in one place. A handful of tall chimneys produced smoke as the boilers of the mills, workshops, and ships came to life. A tattoo of quick whistle blasts startled the brakemen awake, moving them into position to slow the train. Then a strange bell began to rattle a warning. The train lurched as it slowed. Lethargic Huskarls sprang forth and made ready for dangers to appear. Brakemen rushed to their places and the train was abuzz with excitement. Brother Finn stood up and looked at the bleary-eyed children around him.

"Do not fear. We are coming into town and must go through the gate, but the warning flags are flying on the stockade. Skaerslinger are near!" That familiar tingle of fear flew down their nerves and made eyes sharp, their ears straining to hear anything over the slowing train. Squealing brakes, banging carriages and loud chugging made it impossible. The road next to the tracks was so close the two almost merged. On a thin strip between the road and ribbons, there were pikes taller than the train, topped with the heads of the executed. The image shocked the children, and Anja began to cry.

"What is that?" Talo asked.

"They are the heads of those who were either criminals caught by the local borgvordr or Skaerslinger killed in a raid against the local lands."

"Why do they cut them off and put them so high up?"

"To show that to kill or try to harm any Forsamling, you must pay a terrible price in return. They keep the heads and secure them high up, just in case a manitou tries to animate them into Draugr. That is why Gallows are so rarely used or are quickly emptied. Those spirits have terrible strength and could rend the bars if the bodies were kept whole. It does not happen often, but occasionally an unclean spirit will take up residence in a head and torment those passing by." Brother Finn pointed to one of the fresher heads on a pole, "If you will notice though, many have had their mouths sewn shut and packed with salt just in case."

"Why salt?" Liesl asked. The idea giving her some discomforting ideas.

"An old custom that some practice. It is a superstition of course, for the salt does nothing, and a determined manitou could break any threads or sinew used to close the mouths. Other heads might be bound by an oil seal made upon it by a priest. Those never come back. After all, what is bound in Heaven will also be bound here on Earth."

A commotion began on the road ahead. The train slowed to the pace of a walking llama. The rising light revealed the remains of a Skaerslinger attack on a kusk. The oxen lay dead and the wagon was on fire. Around it, a few dead bodies of both Skaerslinger and a kusk. Meiderhvall's borgvordr were already attending the scene, tossing the bodies onto the burning cart.

As one corpse was being grasped by the arms and legs, it spasmed to life with a green light that came from the soil below! The borgvordr cursed as the corpse grasped at them looking to free itself and rend them with its dead hands. The corpse screamed an unearthly language and began clawing and kicking its captors. Shouts of alarm came from the train's passengers as they rolled by. The engine shrieked the whistle in alarm but kept moving. On the last car, a Huskarl took aim with a massive springbow. The borgvordr at the head of the animated body let go and tried to step back as the possessed corpse grasped at his Gambeson sleeves. His axe tangled in its holster while the other borgvordr at the body's feet fought to pull him free. A loud metallic snap was heard and a bolt the size of a javelin rocketed out from the last springbow. It struck the no longer human creature in the chest, tore it free from the borgvordr, and pinned it to the damp earth with enough force to tear it loose from the town guard it had assaulted. A third borgvordr rushed in with the opportunity, and with his glaive swung at the pelvis of the thing. The blade chopped through its target in one swift motion. A chilling scream went out from the creature.

Brother Finn, who had remained still in all this stood up and shouted.

"In the Name of our Lord Jesus, silence, foul spirit!" From his mouth, a thin shock wave of breath came out, glowing in the dim morning. "I command thee bound. Come out of there! Obey and be gone!"

Angels appeared.

They appeared like figures of mist on a pond out of the morning light. Delicate as frost.

A chill went through Reimar at seeing the divine for the first time. Their wings spread and towered over the men and the fire that burned there. The fell creature inhabiting the body turned to see the angels, its expression now one of awe and terror. Their beauty and grace washed over the fetid scene and the two divine figures stepped between the borgvordr, grabbed hold of the horrible manitou, and tore it from the dismembered but still fighting corpse. Like a flash of blue and white lightning, the angels and captive demon vanished. The body tensed and then became still as death lay claim again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~End of Excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael can found at the following social media platforms: 

If your interest has been piqued from Michael's account of the Akiniwazi Saga series, this can be bought from Amazon in either individual volumes: 

or as Book 1 which comprises these 3 volumes:

Thank you, Michael, for giving us an insight into your writer's mind and passion for writing for God's Glory and using the talent He has given you to do so. I am looking forward to reading the Akiniwazi Saga and I pray others will also. It has been a pleasure having you as a guest blogger on this blog. Please consider visiting again! 

Readers and reviews are an author's best asset, so I encourage any reader who likes reading in the genres of Christian inspirational, science fiction and fantasy, to consider reading the Akiniwazi Saga and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).

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