By Dan Lutts
Genre: Young Adult–Fantasy, Dystopian
Welcome to Caldon, a land of mages and magic, where the noblesse possess massive political and magical power and destroy anyone who threatens the noblesse way of life—especially the commoners.
Rill Larkin, the son of a commoner blacksmith, has high ambitions. To be a mage, join the exalted ranks of the ruling noblesse, and establish his own noblesse family. Defying both the system and his family, Rill becomes the apprentice of Deuth Estati, a powerful archmage. But appearances deceive. As training progresses, Rill learns of decades-long secrets and manipulations that threaten his dream. And Deuth might not be as benevolent as Rill thought.
Alyse Dejune despises magic, even if she does belong to one of the oldest and most powerful noblesse families in Caldon. The deceits and treacheries of noblesse life and the loveless marriage alliances among the noblesse families disgust her. Her family however has high expectations: that she fulfill her role as a noblesse girl by marrying Troy Estati, an arrogant, selfish noblesse boy she does not love. And Alyse harbors a secret—the potential to become one of the most powerful mages in generations and wield forbidden magic—that, if revealed, could mean her death.
In this deadly game of ever-shifting alliances, where the state wages perpetual war against an ancient enemy, Rill and Alyse are thrown together in a land where magic is failing. And as greedy noblesse families raid surrounding family compounds for powerful charms, Rill and Alyse are left standing at a terrible crossroads.
“If a charm seeker did open this tomb, why did she take the charm from that one Old Mage but not his staff? And why did she leave all the other charms and staffs behind? I wonder—”
“How fortunate for me she did,” a voice said behind them. “And how unfortunate for you.”
Rill and Jedd whirled around.
Just inside the entrance stood a skinny, middle-aged man of medium height. His gray tunic and tan pants were dirty and patched and his boots old and scuffed. Oily, unkempt hair framed his pockmarked face. In his right hand, he held a staff. The light from Rill’s and Jedd’s torches danced shadows across his face, making his malevolent grin appear even more evil.
A blacksmith’s vise clamped Rill’s chest making it hard for him to breathe. A rohan! A backwatcher or protector—either a mage or a bladeswoman or bladesman—who had been expelled by a noblesse matriarch for breaking her oath to serve and protect the matriarch’s family. An outcast from society no other noblesse First or Lesser Family would touch. A woman or man who was lower even than the criminals, dagger women, and prostitutes living in Caldon’s most dangerous neighborhood, The Slums.
Rill’s gaze fastened on the rohan’s left hand that clutched something beneath his grimy tunic.
“Actus,” the rohan mage said, his sinister smile showing he’d deliberately spoken the word loud enough for Rill and Jedd to hear.
Rill eyed the staff, his stomach paining him. The rohan had activated his charm. All he had to do now was point the staff at a target and cast a spell. Rill’s gaze slid to Jedd, who appeared as rigid as a marble statue.
With exaggerated slowness, the rohan aimed the staff at the gap between Rill and Jedd, then deliberately moved it from one to the other. His lips drew up into a cruel smile, making Rill feel like a mouse being toyed with by a cat.
Rill choked on a lump of regret. Why didn’t I listen to Jedd and leave the coffins alone? We could of been partway home by now. I could of been a mage. But now I never will be.
Slowly and deliberately, the rohan inhaled a mouthful of air and said, “Luco!”
Rill’s frightened breath blended with Jedd’s when the crystal burst into life, and white mage light flooded the tomb.
The rohan laughed as if he’d just watched a first-rate comedy routine as he stepped several paces forward. “Scared of a little light, boys?”
Rill’s gaze jumped to Jedd. His cousin was glowering at the man, his hands balled into fists.
The rohan smirked at Jedd.
Slowly, keeping his eyes on the rohan, Rill moved his hand toward his sword’s brown leather grip.
The rohan must have had invisible eyes in the side of his head. With a chuckle, he casually pointed the staff at Rill. “Foolish boy. I can kill you before your sword’s half out of its scabbard.”
Rill let his hand drop to his side.
“Tsk-tsk,” the rohan said, drawing closer. “Naughty boys charm seeking. That’s a death offense. Unless you’re mages, of course. Are you mages, naughty boys?”
“You know we ain’t,” Rill said through clenched teeth.
The rohan stepped forward a few more paces until only a staff’s length separated them. “When I came across your well-fed and groomed horses a while ago, I thought that maybe their owners came from good families. Families with money. So I went looking for you. My goodness, you weren’t hard to find. Not with all that racket you made in here with the cougar. Boys with horses and swords. And purses hanging from their belts.” His gaze riveted itself to Rill. “And with such interesting things inside.”
Rill’s heart froze into a lump of ice as he forced himself to return the rohan’s stare. He saw me take the charm.
The rohan flashed them both an evil smile. “So I said to myself, ‘Self, I bet those naughty little boys are carrying some nice shiny gildas in their purses. Or maybe even a goldie.’ You got any?”
“Why don’t you come closer and find out?” Rill said. He’d tried to sound cocky, but his voice broke halfway through the question.
The rohan grinned, obviously enjoying himself. He pointed the staff at Rill. “Naughty boy. I hope you don’t melt.”
Terror ripped through Rill like a barbed arrowhead.
He had only moments to live.
What inspired you to write this book? OR Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
The inspiration for Charm Wars came one day when I thought up the ending of the book. (You’ll have to wait until Book 4 in the series to read that.) I don’t recall what sparked the thought, but I immediately began thinking about the characters, their world, and a rough plot.
I love YA fantasy and dystopian novels. But most of the ones I’ve read, even when they have strong female characters, take place in mostly male-centered worlds. So I developed a female-centered world: Caldon. (Hence the saying, “The men receive the honors, but the women have the power.”) I even went a bit further by using female-centered phrases and words, such as “women and men” instead of “men and women,” “she and he” instead of “he and she,” and “woman made” instead of “manmade.” (In Book 2, Revenge of the Estati,” Caldonians won’t say “humanity,” but “huwomanity.”) When I first met the woman who would become my wife, she was heavily involved in the Goddess movement. She inspired me to have the Caldonian religion center around goddesses instead of gods. The world of Charm Wars continues to be a work in progress, and I’ll be interested to see what other ideas my mind comes up with.
What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
Phew! I learned a lot of things, and am still learning. I’m a self-published author. I revised Charm Wars five or six times before publishing it. That was a challenge in itself. But I also faced a host of other challenges, some of which were quite frustrating until I successfully learned them. I already knew editing is important, and part of my regular job involves editing. But I never realized how crucial editing was until I received my marked-up content edit from my main editor, along with a few books on writing she recommended I read before revising the manuscript. Her suggestions, content edit, and line edits made a huge difference in the book’s quality. The line edits and proofreading by yet another editor did too. I also had to learn how to put the manuscript into a book template, which filled me with frustration for weeks and weeks until I finally figured out how to do it properly. Now that I have all that experience and knowledge under my belt, dealing with Book 2, Revenge of the Estati will be easier.
I also learned that, besides writing Charm Wars, I also have to promote the book, as I’m doing now on this blog tour. Promotion can be a full-time job in itself. I had to research best ways to promote the book and then identify promoters I wanted to work with. All that costs money, and I had to determine how best to use it.
In short, I had to learn four basic things: how to create a compelling book, how to market it, how to finance it, and how to track expenses. That’s an awful lot to learn. A friend of mine has been successfully self publishing books for four or five years. I mentioned to her that doing all this was, from my own experience, a steep learning curve. She responded, “Yes it is. And I’m still learning.”
What surprised you the most in writing it?
What surprised me the most in writing Charm Wars was how heavily involved I became with the characters. I actually found myself crying when I was proofing some of the scenes. I mean, I’ve done that with some books other authors have written. But my own?
If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
It’s not a spoiler, but part of the Charm Wars world. From the very beginning of Caldon’s founding, there has been a huge shortage of charms and staffs. The reason is simple. During the Great Destruction, the refugees from Euloria could bring only a limited supply of charms and staffs when they fled across the Rocky Strait to the territory that became Caldonia, and the city of Caldon. The continent they fled from is now called the Forbidden Lands, and Caldonians who went there to gather more charms and staffs never returned. But charms and staffs are vital to the survival, prestige, and power of Caldon’s First and Lesser Families. They strive to amass as many of them as they can. To do that, they stage charm raids on enemy First and Lesser Families’ fortress-like compounds.
Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
No. Real people didn’t inspire any of my characters. I determined what each major—and some minor—characters wanted, which was a job in itself. I wrote biographies of each one.
Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
While the big moral lesson will come in Book 4, Charm Wars has at least three moral lessons. First, wanting something badly enough can lead to moral corruption. Second, stick up for what you think is right, despite the consequences. Third, strong friendships are important.
What is your favorite part of the book?
I have several favorite parts of the book. One of them is the bond of friendship that slowly develops between Livia and Rill.
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
I think creating Rill Larkin was extremely challenging. He has a lot of good qualities, but his overpowering ambition to become a mage at any cost often overwhelms them. He hurts a lot of people, including his family, in trying to achieve his goal of becoming a noblesse and starting his own commoner-noblesse family. But I didn’t want to make him into a bad or evil person, just a misguided one. I hope I succeeded.
What are your immediate and future plans?
My immediate plans: I want to complete Revenge of the Estati and have it ready for release by the end of 2022. I also am fleshing out the third book in the series. Plus, I need to continue marketing Charm Wars.
My future plans: Write the third and fourth books in the Charm Wars series. I also want to come up with ideas for YA fantasy and dystopian novels after the Charm Wars series. I already have some themes in mind. Plus I also want to work on an adult book that I started some years ago that deals with the son of a Nazi war criminal and his relationship with a female Mossad agent.
About the Author:
Dan Lutts, the author of Charm Wars, was brought up in Quincy, Massachusetts, and began addictively reading Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman comic books at an early age, much to his mother’s distress. In junior high school, he switched to reading science fiction novels. While in high school and college, he wrote science fiction short stories.
Dan taught history and archaeology in high school for ten years. After being laid off because of budget cuts, he used his love of writing to retrain and became a software technical editor and writer. He worked for several computer companies, taught technical writing at the college level, and worked as a freelance writer. Now, combining his love of history and writing, he works at a World War II museum doing research and writing.
Dan loves to read and has varied tastes, including Young Adult, historical fiction, mysteries, 18th-century sea epics, and history. He especially enjoys Young Adult fiction and decided to try his hand at it. Charm Wars, Dan’s first novel, is the result.
Dan lives in rural Maine with his wife, Lisa. When he’s not working or writing, Dan can be found reading, making and shooting medieval arrows with his longbow, or playing with his two dogs and two cats—all rescue animals.