Lute

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale: Book One of The Outlaws of Avalon

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Cover and Spine, Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

Okay, full disclosure time: I’m best friends with the author.

Fuller disclosure time: this book is the reason I’m best friends with the author.

I was plugging my own WIP of the time on a National Novel Writing Month forum, and the then-unpublished Danielle E. Shipley messaged me, asking to hear excerpts of my work. Flattered, I sent her my opening scene. Then she sent me her opening scene in return.

Full disclosure again? I winced when I saw the message. Fact is, most people’s first drafts aren’t worth looking at, and I hadn’t actually volunteered myself as a reader for some stranger’s project. But, feeling obligated–after all, she was reading my first draft–I decided to look it over.

I was stunned. It didn’t read like a first draft at all. It read like a–like a novel! Like one I’d keep reading! And so I did, eagerly awaiting every section as she wrote it, as she awaited mine. And over the course of those shared manuscripts and conversations, we became fast friends.

It’s been a few years since then, and the manuscript has been through some revisions. It’s even better now. It’s been through some drafts, and she’s become a better writer. She’s now worked as a player at the Faire that inspired the “What If” behind the story, and she’s gotten to know and understand the hearts of these characters better than ever.

It’s rich and silly and beautiful and hilarious and deep. It’s not one hundred percent to my taste–I tend to like “grittier” and more intrigue-fraught books than this–but it’s an exactly perfect version of what it’s meant to be.

For fans of the Wilderhark Tales, this is the urban fantasy continuation you didn’t know that you needed–but that you desperately needed. For newcomer’s to Miss Shipley’s works, know that The Outlaws of Avalon, while connected to the Wilderhark world, is a series all its own, and a perfectly good place to start. It’s where I started!

 

My Review

For fans of the Merry Men, Ren Faires, or lighthearted, magic-just-around-the-bend urban fantasy, The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale is an automatic win.

As with all of D.E. Shipley’s works, characters are the driving force behind the unique story and beautiful style–and as usual, they are individual, charming, and full of life.

Meet Allyn-a-Dale, a young minstrel whose heart is fresh from a tragedy. He’s just as freshly fallen from the magical secrets of his own world, and into the magical secrets of a modern Renaissance Faire. With his late father’s voice still ringing in his head, (Gant-o-the-Lute is quite the charismatic figure in his own right, even as an imagined echo,) the adaptable bard tentatively finds a new family in the Merry Men.

The Merry Men… you’ll find the upstanding and surprisingly straight-laced Robin Hood, Marion “the fun aunt” Hood, the frighteningly-quiet and hilariously deadpan Little John, and… Will Scarlet. Incorrigible, indomitable, energetic, babbling, brave, manic, shameless, luminous fan-favorite Will Scarlet. Just wait till you meet him. You’ll see. You’ll see.

What might have been a sweet, comedy-filled coming-of-age story takes a sharp and sudden turn into action-adventure, theft, a car chase, magical shenanigans, and battles with fantastic forces. I wish I could show you some of my fan art, but–alas, spoilers! Suffice it to say, Ballad drew me in with its voice, characters, and worlds, but it riveted me with its peril.

In a melodic style that matches the magic and minstrelsy inherent to the story, Danielle E. Shipley spins out a story that is at once fantastic, funny, sweet, melancholy, and dangerous.

Links!

The beautiful paperback is available on Amazon and at Createspace, and the e-book is available via Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Overdrive.

Here’s Danielle’s release post–complete with potential prizes! 😀

 

Cover Reveal: The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

 

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Cover and Spine, Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

            Excerpt

Allyn would have known Will Scarlet for a relation of Robin Hood’s even had he not been introduced as his cousin. Though clean-shaven, younger, and framed by thick locks of gold tinged with the color of his name, Will’s face was patently similar to Robin’s, with the same blue eyes that sparkled cheerily at Allyn when the two were presented to each other.

“And where’d you pick this fellow up, then, Robin?” he asked blithely.

“In my tent,” replied Robin, “with Marion.”

Will’s brows leapt toward his crimson cap’s pointed brim. “Wish I were Allyn!”

“Will…”

“Joking, joking,” Will waved aside Marion’s halfhearted rebuke. He coughed. “…Mostly. So, Allyn-a-Dale — looking to join the Merry Men, are you?”

“I don’t really know,” Allyn said doubtfully. “What are the Merry Men?”

To Allyn’s heart-thudding dismay, Will answered, “We’re an infamous band of outlaws.”

“Not really,” Marion hastened to jump in.

“Not anymore,” Little John amended.

“It’s complicated,” said Robin. “But we’re really not at liberty to tell you much more about it until we’ve spoken to Merlin.”

“That would be King Arthur’s chief counselor and illustrious wizard,” Will said in answer to Allyn’s questioning expression. “He literally runs the show around here, so—”

“No,” said Little John, his gaze a grim weight on Will Scarlet.

“Oh, would you chillax, you pedant?” Will huffed, facial muscles ticking with minor irritation. “I know you think the Outsiders have been using the word with nary a care to its meaning, of late, but I know what ‘literally’ means, and in this case, I literally meant ‘literally’!”

The marginal lowering of Little John’s brow silently warned what he would literally do to Will if he said that word but once more.

“And they’re off,” said Robin, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, Allyn, they only bicker like this when they’re both breathing.”

Allyn’s lips twitched toward the beginnings of a smile, but froze halfway, his mind only just now becoming fully conscious of what he’d heard. “Robin,” he said, fighting a sudden swell of anxiety. “Did Will just say we’re off to see a wizard?”

The Author’s Thoughts on the Cover

 The Outlaws of Avalon trilogy is my baby, so I knew its faces had to blow me away. For Book One’s cover, there were a couple elements I for sure wanted to highlight: 1, the forest (because SHERWOOD), and 2, the lute (because Allyn-a-Dale). The rest, I mostly left up to my designers – photographer Lars van de Goor, and his son Milan.

A couple drafts later, this was the gorgeous result. The elegant swirls! The delightful rosette on the spine! Of all the darling touches – a ROBIN perched over “Ballad”s second A! And, of course, the must-have lute sitting sedately amongst the trees.

The minstrel blue, the greenwood green, the magical splash of sunlight… This cover doesn’t just say “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”: It sings it.

About the Author

Danielle E. Shipley is the author of the Wilderhark Tales novellas, the novel Inspired, and several other expressions of wishful thinking.

She has spent most of her life in the Chicago area and increasing amounts of time in Germany.

She hopes to ultimately retire to a private immortal forest. But first, there are stories to make.

Author Photo, Danielle E. Shipley, jpeg

 

Part Eight: Always Fine

A 100-word chapter of a 1,000-word story. Part one here.

*****

He must be more than man, she thought. His voice was more fitting of sunbirds and divine courtyards than of minstrel man walking common earth.

And more; his age, his youth—how many years had he walked this earth, and still so fresh of face?

You’ll outlive me, shan’t you?”

In all likelihood. It happens,” he said, in lightly flaming lilt.

To you?”

Yes.”

And you’re fine?”

Yes.”

And you’ll be fine…?”

Of course. I’m always fine,” he said. Face flashing with sorrow, he took up his lute and played a cheerful tune.

*****

To be continued.

Part four: A Minstrel Lover

A 100 chapter of a 1,000 word story. Here’s part one.

*****

As the lutestrings stilled, the love song faded. The minstrel set his instrument on the grass, and his eyes, still bright with music, flicked up to the girl that knelt before him.

And now the song must end, for I need my arms for you,” he said in a voice of golden bells, and drew the girl to him.

He cradled her as he had his lute; with sensual care, and pressed his mouth to hers. His slim fingers ran over her body, plucking chords that set her trembling.

As the lute sat by in silence, the love song swelled.

*****

Part three: Set in Sound

A 100 chapter of a 1,000 word story. Here’s part one.

*****

I heard a song of you within my soul that called to me;
now let me play for you a song of you and us to be.”

The minstrel’s fingers freed the song, and the song lovingly trapped the girl.

Strummed strings captured all of her; her love of peace and battle glee, the prose within her heart, green topped cliffs by crashing sea and search for God within His art.

Lute song played the girl complete, spirit, flesh and mind, and as he freed her music from his soul, he caught the whole of the girl within his music.

*****

Sorry I forgot my Tuesday post. In my defense, I was on my honeymoon. Also in my defense, I doubt anyone was much troubled.

Part two: Songlight

A 100 chapter of a 1,000 word story. Here’s part one.

*****

The lutenist’s sparkling eyes spoke only to her, played for her alone out of the crowd. He played to her of him, she knew, that she might better know.

He played of songlight, spilling sparkling from a minstrel all in blue. She heard the words ‘neath melody, the truth beyond the tune.

He played of breeze that blew him on, it drew her onward, too, and as he danced his merry way, she followed him, and knew that she would follow ever, blown by the song strumming her heartstrings, drawn by the lifelight of the man of music before her.

*****

To be continued.

Starring: The Song Caster

 

Hey, Syawn here. Today we welcome the bright and shining star of the recently released Wilderhark Tales novella, The Song Caster, a minstrel-come-prince running off on one last adventure before facing the music of an impending marriage and the crown that comes with it.

Time for a little character-to-character confidential. (The sort of confidential that gets blasted to any eyes that happen upon my corner of the internet, naturally.)

So, Gant-o-the-Lute. You’re originally based on “And The Beanstalk” Jack. How do you feel about your literary predecessor? And how do you think that you and your stories stand out from the original?

“Ah, Jack,” says Lute, his smile amused. “The boy who sold the family’s lone source of income for a handful of beans on a stranger’s word they were magic. Points off, there, for lack of survivalist sense. Still, when the beanstalk sprouted, up he climbed, none put off from the sky’s treasures even when confronted with a man-eating monster. That’s daring! Daring, we share.”

“But then what? He makes off with the goods, chops the stalk down to nothing, and wallows in wealth the rest of his days, The End?” Lute shakes his head. “Thank you, no. The prize is not the prize; the going after it is. I don’t mean to stop seeking adventure one way or another ‘til the day I die.” His eyebrows lift. “Nor do I mean to die.”

A halfway reasonable hope, considering; fantasy is your genre, with fairy tale as your sub genre. But suppose for a moment that you could choose the world and writing for your tale—what genre would you inhabit?

Lute’s eyes shine between blue and green as he considers. “Hmm. The fantasy aspect, I’d be inclined to keep. I can hardly imagine a life in which I am not in some way magic. The fairytale qualities, however, I could do without. Give me a world with a bit more darkness to face. Give me fell creatures out to wipe mankind from the face of the earth. Give me cause to stand and fight with valor through bloody days and hopeless nights.” He smiles, wide and bright with rapture, breathless. “I’d ne’er know a moment of boredom again.”

As demonstrated in The Song Caster, you are proficient with just about any instrument (magical or otherwise) that comes under your fingers. So what made you choose the lute as your dominant instrument?

Lute’s fingers stroke the instrument in question, his expression gone tender. “It was much like the choosing of a mate. A matter of finding the music with which I best connected. Perhaps not just any lute would do it, but this one was given to me by someone I… valued.”

His gaze falls to the wooden shape cradled in his arms. “Therefore did I value my lute all the more. And it has ever played true for me. We’ve forged a bond, the songs of our souls twined in harmony. I can make music with any instrument, but not just any can make music with me. Thus am I not Jackillen Gant only, but Gant-o’-the-Lute.”

As your last hurrah before leaving the wandering path for confinement to a single (if highly musical) kingdom, what were you hoping for from this adventure? And how much did the reality differ from your hope?

“I’d hoped…” He trails off, his gaze faraway. “I don’t know what I hoped,” he whispered. “I only wanted more time. More space. One more chance for something to happen to me, and for me to happen to it. I just wasn’t ready to go still. I suppose,” he chuckles, “it was something like fear. To marry, to settle down onto a throne, is an unknown even I shy from exploring.”

“Funny enough, you could say the purpose of my journey was much like my travel companion’s: Both off to brace up and find the courage we needed to be kings. And I did find things inside of me I never thought I would. Found so much, lost so much… The last adventure of my youth did nothing to curb my desire for more, but it did effect a change in me – perhaps enough of one that I may live chained to castle with my spirit intact.”

Suppose that a career in minstrelsy had been barred in the first place. (Get it? Bard? …Nevermind.) Hardly imaginable, I know, but what path might you have taken to in its stead?

“Huzzah for wordplay,” Lute says dryly. “But if, for argument’s sake, I could not be a traveling musician, I expect I would have opted to be a traveling something else. Someone who goes out and acquires rare things from dangerous places and hands them off to people in retail, perhaps. Or at the least, if helpless rich people visiting between lands could use a guide and protector, I could easily provide. Or,” he laughs, “I could give up honest employment as a bad job and rob my way across the Great Land. Maybe make a profession of that!” He flashes an impish grin at Sy. “I don’t believe the area ‘round Wilderhark has nearly enough in the way of Thief Lords, do you?”

Wise man. No fantasy world–even one given to happily-ever-afters–can stand for long without its rouges and rascals. Now off to AmazonBarnes and Noble, or Createspace with you, readers, to discover just what sort of rascally rogue the daring caster of song intends to be, with his final few glorious days roaming free.