The Fall of the New Year Throne (Complete Sword & Sorcery Novel of ancient Persia)

By Juan Cole

The Fall of the New Year Throne

Many, many thanks to everyone who followed the serialized sword and sorcery novel I have posted here since last January.

I had written a version of it in the early 1990s. I wasn’t satisfied with it and ultimately got drawn into other projects. The book was intended as the first of a trilogy, telling the story of the ancient Persian figures, Jamshid, Zohak and Faridun. These stories were part of ancient Iranian (and to some extent Indo-European and Indo-Iranian) lore. They were retold by Abu’l-Qasim Firdawsi in his epic Persian poem, the Shahnameh. But I went back beyond Firdawsi, to the early Zoroastrian (Parsi) texts, which told what I thought was a much more complex and interesting set of stories about these figures than did the medieval poet.

One thing that attracted me about the material was that it clearly was about conflicts among generals, holy men and workers– i.e. it had resonances with the contemporary Middle East! But it was also a world of wonder with distinctive legends and mythical creatures. Too much of Sword and Sorcery as a genre is just a re-imagining of medieval Europe, and ancient Persia seemed a world worth exploring in this context. Being a historian, I went back and did a lot of reading about the ancient Near East where the novel is set, and had fun exploring. Of course, this is a novel, so I used the material as a basis for imaginings.

Silly me, last winter I thought the Middle East might be settling down, and I could finally get some real leisure back after over a decade of blogging the region intensively. So I got out a printed-off MS of the sword and sorcery novel and retrieved the old Word files and tried my hand at reworking the material.

It quickly became apparent to me that I would never get to it unless I more or less blogged the rewrite. It just had become my habit to write things I thought might be of interest and then to post them. Having some of you follow the serialization was important to me as a motivator to continue putting up the sections of the chapters. Otherwise, the business of life would have just pushed it into the background again.

It worked! You sometimes complained when I fell behind, and asked for more. And I finally completed a draft of the novel (see below). I also think that the serialization process, posting episodes in digestible chunks, helped improve the writing and the structure. I’ll let others decide.

I have to say I was a little surprised that I did not get more comment and input– though I am *very* grateful for what I did get. I suppose this blog is self-selected for nonfiction readers and so perhaps it wasn’t the best venue for a fantasy novel. Anyway, I had thought there would be some crowdsourcing of critique, and for the most part that didn’t happen. A little puzzled. But then there are now whole sites dedicated to mutual critique.

I suppose the important thing is that I wanted to see the novel become available, and now it is. I was inspired in this regard by Cory Doctorow, who put his early novels up on the web. For all of you who followed it so far, or who told me they would only pick it up once it was complete, here is the link, below, to where you can get the pdf file (suitable for many tablet programs, from iBooks to Stanza to Kindle). Many, many thanks for your support. I’m hoping things will work out so that it appears more formally and I’ll be encouraged to go on to the second and third volumes.

For The Fall of the New Year Throne, click here)

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Zahhak_enthroned

Comments and suggestions on the installments are welcome, but they should please be constructive. Commenters relinquish the rights to any ideas they express in the comments section, which become the property of Juan Cole. Presumably they want them incorporated into the final work, and they might be. The novel is copyright by Juan Cole, 2014, and may not be mirrored or reproduced without express permission from the author.

2 Responses

  1. One thing that attracted me about the material was that it clearly was about conflicts among generals, holy men and workers– i.e. it had resonances with the contemporary Middle East! But it was also a world of wonder with distinctive legends and mythical creatures. Too much of Sword and Sorcery as a genre is just a re-imagining of medieval Europe, and ancient Persia seemed a world worth exploring in this context. Being a historian, I went back and did a lot of reading about the ancient Near East where the novel is set, and had fun exploring. Of course, this is a novel, so I used the material as a basis for imaginings.

    Thanks for all the imaginings! The above paragraph brilliantly captures the potential of the project. Throughout the story, the novelty and richness of history, myths, its Mesopotamian setting, portrayal of class conflict and Persian spiritual teaching intermittently shine through, which kept me reading on. At the same time, however, the novel is happily following the well-trodden format of the “sword and sorcery”/Fantasy genre and so it feels like a story that does not know itself: is it a creation of a modern story inspired from Mesopotamian lore, ancient myths made accessible in a modern guise, a story which needs to be told? Or a writing exercise of instant Fantasy but brewed from ancient Iranian, instead of medieval European, material?

    This being a re-write of earlier material may have something to do with the mis-matches I kept experiencing while reading. It may be interesting to compare The Fall of the New Year Throne to Carpet People. In this novel, Terry Pratchett reworked a manuscript written by his much younger self, and reflected: “hang on. I wrote that in the days when I thought fantasy was all battles and kings. Now I’m inclined to think that the real concerns of fantasy ought to be about not having battles, and doing without kings” (from the foreword).

    [spoilers to follow]

    What if the Persians had werewolves? If we are to explore this fantastic premise, surely this could go anywhere, be anything? Well, we know a bit about Persia, we certainly know all about werewolves; the “technology” behind Lycantropy is used as bargaining chips in diplomatic negotiations, again familiar terrain. There is, of course, the immediately recognizable problem of drug overdosing, which we are constantly reminded of, that serves as back story for the main villain explaining his straying from the path of being a noble and benevolent king and also serving as the Achilles heel to his overpowered omniscience.

    Those scripted narratives, tropes, and at the end of the day, the utter predictability of such standard Fantasy fare is what is keeping projects like this from reaching the literary potential of the genre, compared to truly imaginativeartists like Ursala LeGuin and Tolkin.

    One aspect of the Fantasy fare that stands out is the obligatory portrayal of violence and voyeurism: we begin by ogling big black naked priests, and later get to see brother and sister make out in terms of an archaic vocabulary for PG sex. Such juvenile excursions are liberally sprinkled throughout these chronicles of chaotic times, the good old days when boys can be boys. Clearly, the author is only too happy to let himself be lured by the escapist tendencies of Fantasy (while covering current affairs in the Middle East certainly makes this understandable, do we really need to regress to escape?).

    All this is juxtaposed with a fleeting recognition that it just doesn’t sound like much fun to be in the middle of all this turmoil, especially for women, children, the elderly… anybody, really, who is not blessed with superpowers. Or so it would, were the novel to take itself seriously more often. Instead, the modern conception of gender-awareness translates more into ancient super-heroines getting to kick ass alongside the boys (because they either love or have been wronged by men).

    While we do get an inkling of war and slavery being actually atrocious for most people, tellingly this is portrayed almost entirely from the point of view of the temporarily déclassé who are really meant to be upper middle class (or its ancient equivalent, master artisans in service to the king). The protagonists need to weather trials of fate and teach peasants about irrigation techniques before re-achieving their predestined Bourgeois standing (and love story), for now. To boot, they – much like Harry Potter – are touched by the gods from the beginning of the story…

    It seems being invested in established rules is keeping the story from charting its own way and doing justice to its people, stories, and places, historic and fantastic.

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