20th Anniversary of BattleAxe

battleaxeI am absolutely thrilled to announce that Sara’s publishers, Voyager, are releasing a special 20th anniversary edition of Sara’s very first novel, Battleaxe, in March this year. Featuring quotes from wonderful writers such as Juliet Marillier and Fiona McIntosh and a foreword by me, Karen Brooks, and with a gorgeous new cover, readers can once more (or the first time) relish this tale of love, brutality, mystery, treachery and magic.

Battleaxe was the book that brought Sara and her fantastic stories into the literary sphere and reader’s lives the world over. I hope you will all enjoy re-reading and/or discovering Axis, Rivkah, Faraday, Gorgreal and the entire cast of complex, amazing characters  and places as much as I did. My only wish is that Sara was here to see the way in which her work lives on and continues to not simply capture, but grab readers over and over.

The cover is both simple and yet elegant and reflects the major themes of the book. These are exemplified in the tree cross-section, done a blood-shed red, and the axes, so neatly crossed and positioned in its centre. Here, in symbolic form, we have religions clashing, nature and culture and those who stand on these (in the world of Tencendor) diametrically opposed sides intersecting, and the threat of combat and destruction looming.

The parchment background and bold, Stygian black of the title and curlicues signify both the historical research underpinning the book and the power of the written word. In the world of Battleaxe, this is neatly juxtaposed against oral culture and the songs and magic that complete it.

Finally, there is Sara’s name embossed in gold – gold for the richness her work has brought to so many lives and in honour of the memory of a wonderful women, friend, and writer. Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Battleaxe first burst its way onto the fantasy novel scene? I know I cannot. It really does seem only yesterday when Sara found a tiny plastic axe, picked it up and took it home and allowed a story to unfold before her mind’s eye.

The axe that started it all.

That little axe is now glued to my computer (see my very poor picture on the right – that is the edge of my mac you can see). It is my muse; a reminder of Sara every time I write (like I need one – I don’t really, but it does provide comfort). It gives me inspiration, hope and, most importantly, a kick up the bum when I’m lost for words or feeling flat – something Sara did for me (and I for her) often.

I hope that you are as excited as I am by this beautiful new edition of a most beloved book.

Warmest wishes,


Fantasy Book Review: BattleAxe

There was a time in my life where I felt that nothing good would ever come out of Australian entertainment. I was right, and I’ll always be right, as long as I continue to ensure that “Australian entertainment” doesn’t refer to Australian literature. That’s not to say that Australian literature isn’t entertaining, but more to ensure that I am once again right.

That being said, over the past 12 months I have come across several brilliantly talented Australian fantasy authors who really know how to write. If nothing else, it bodes well for me, an aspiring author, that my country can produce fantastical literary talent.

Of those Australian writers one of my favorites is Sara Douglass. Born in South Australia, Sara Douglass was born Sara Warneke, but probably assumed that Warneke wasn’t a name you wanted on the front cover of a book. Her first foray into fantasy was Battleaxe, published in 1995, and the beginning of the Axis Trilogy.

Douglass manages to keep your attention all through the book, despite jumping perspectives every chapter or so. We are introduced to an intricate cast of characters, one part mortal one part mythical and fated. Characters that you think are nothing more than passing attractions soon become imperative not only to the story itself, but to you. Lesser characters, as is always the case for me at least, make up the large majority of my favorites.

BattleAxe is very much part one of three books, and you are left suitable anticipating the next book. Thankfully, for us at least, the entire trilogy (and sextet) is on shelves somewhere.

Picking up these books is definitely recommended. The writing is easy to follow, and though not as refined as the likes of Hobb and Barclay, is measurably excusable in her first literary outing and normally not distracting.

Rating: 7.6/10 – Douglass manages to keep your attention all through despite jumping perspectives every chapter or so.

*note* in the USA and most European countries, the Axis Trilogy and the following Wayfarer Redemption trilogy are one six book series. Not so in Australia though, where they are kept in their original separate trilogy status, but obviously linked in content. *note*

©2007 Joshua S Hill / Fantasy Book Review. To read the full review on the Fantasy Book Review website please click on this link.

Australian Book Review: BattleAxe & Enchanter

battleaxe-1steditioncover-ShaunTanenchanter-1steditionPaperback originals with colourful covers: they may look downmarket, but they mark an interesting new publishing direction in Australia. These three genre fantasy novels are the first in a new list of science fiction and fantasy books being published by HarperCollins Australia, in a country where publishing in these genres – outside of the young adult market – has been minimal, and often unsuccessful.

BattleAxe is a commercial genre fantasy in a way that Sabriel is not, which is to say that it cleaves more closely – at least on the surface – to a set of generic expectations involving in this case a Quest, Rites of Passage, a War of Light against Darkness, powerful mages, kingdoms to be fought for, and a selection of princesses and other women of great beauty and charisma. A cynic might argue that for this reason, Sara Douglass’ BattleAxe is an ideal title with which to launch a line which – published as paperback originals – must home in on the mass-market sales. Titles that appeal only to small intellectual cults and coteries are not sound commercial sense, not, at least, when launching a new kind of book.

But there is no need to be cynical at all. The Axis Trilogy (only two books published so far) turns out to be a wonderfully quirky and intelligent romp, in the way it plays variations on familiar fantasy themes. You often think you know what is coming next, especially as Douglass’ comparative newness as an author shows up in the innocent flag-waving with which she telegraphs important plot turns hundreds of pages ahead; but then something comes along to thoroughly surprise.

Did I say this was a feminist book? Well it is, but it’s the sort of feminism that allows really spunky men to have a place in women’s universe, too. So be warned.

You can tell from all this that either you give up before you begin or plunge deep into a wildly romantic (but then again rather ambivalent) world of detail poured on detail. I recommend the total immersion technique myself. Once you get used to how complicated fantasies like this work, they can give a lot of pleasure. Douglass’ books are compulsive page-turners, and by no means childish. Behind these, for example, is a debate about the nature of religion that is quite firmly worked out – and, once suspects, anti-Christian in essence, though nowhere is Christianity directly mentioned.

©1996 Peter Nicholls / Australian Book Review. Battleaxe and Enchanter, by Sara Douglass; Sabriel by Garth Nix, reviewed by Peter Nicholls for the Australian Book Review, September 1996. To read the full review on the website please click on this link.

Aurealis: BattleAxe

The reprint of BattleAxe with cover by Shaun Tan.

Sit back, glass of port in one hand, Loreena McKennitt on the stereo, the latest Janny Wurts novel in hand … did I mention Janny Wurts? Not a bad comparison. Douglass’ writing is not yet so slick, but she has greater empathy for her characters and a sense of humour missing from Wurts. There is heart to BattleAxe, and more happens in it than in the average Wurts’ novel.

We open with the obligatory prophecy (incidentally, the worst piece of writing in the book), which tells us that there is due to be an epic war between brothers which will decide the fate of the three races of Achar.

Something mysterious and ugly is killing soldiers in the frozen north; refugees struggle south with tales of flesh-eating ghosts. Axis Rivkahson, BattleAxe of the Axe-Wielders of the Seneschal, is dispatched north with his troops to do battle with the enemy. On the way north he falls in love with his brother’s betrothed, meets two priests on the shore of an enchanted lake, finds he is the only being able to read an untranslated prophecy …

Fantasy readers will find the plotting familiar, but not tedious. Parts of the novel are beautifully handled. I enjoyed it.

Complaints? There are a couple. The prophecy gives away too much. Douglass is a historian by profession and has dragged in names and other elements of mythology from a number of cultures, resulting in a blend which doesn’t form a cohesive whole. The Charonites are a deus ex machina. The novel has a poorly-executed, patronizing cover which subliminally tells the punter that the publisher thinks the whole idea of fantasy is a crock of the proverbial.

Don’t believe it. If you enjoy epic fantasy, then give this novel a chance.

©1995 Bill Congreve / Aurealis. Reviewed by Bill Congreve for Aurealis, Issue no 15, p. 80 (back issues can be ordered from the Aurealis website). This review originally appeared on Sara Douglass’s website in full.

Eidolon: BattleAxe

battleaxe-1steditioncoverToo often in this column, a single maxim, hoary and cliched, rears its ugly head. So many books – intentionally or not – mislead the reader both in terms of content and quality that it becomes all too easy to simply throw one’s hands into the air and recite the protective mantra over and over again.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t…”

BattleAxe by Sara Douglass is the first Australian fantasy release from HarperCollins, and in terms of the packaging I’ll have to admit that I was more than a little uneasy about having to read this 674 page tome. To begin with, the cover art is very poor, albeit fairly accurate in terms of content. And once the book was opened, my inquietude merely increased with the sighting of not one but two maps (usually a strong indicator that the writing won’t be strong enough to convey a sense of location on its own), plus a prophecy. Add the glossary at the back of the book, and I found myself becoming less enthused by the minute. But a job is a job, a review a review, and I do have my pride, contrary to popular belief.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t…”

Granted, there is nothing startlingly original in BattleAxe – a land threatened by evil, a mighty young leader of dubious parentage, a beautiful yet unattainable woman, a Prophecy in the making, mystic races, ancient hatreds, and plenty of magic, battles, sacrifice, betrayal, love, honour and mysteries. It’s all standard heroic fantasy iconographics, constructed in a fairly unsurprising manner.

“Don’t judge a book…”

So why did I enjoy this novel so much, with its awful presentation, its cliched premise, its cookie cutter characters? Quite simply, BattleAxe is by far the most professionally written fantasy novel to be written in Australia to date. For me to become involved in a fantasy novel, as I’ve expressed ad nauseam in previous reviews, it must succeed in three key areas – pacing, character and scenery. The prose is very consistent, starting with events designed to draw the reader in and never really letting go for the rest of the book, the characters well drawn and generally sympathetic, if not always realistic – this is fantasy, after all – and the descriptive writing successfully manages to balance brevity and clarity, an admirable achievement.

One very welcome aspect of BattleAxe is its grittiness, a sharp contrast to the pastel-hued romantic fantasies which have been the dominant force in Australian fantasy recently; the opening sequences are nasty enough to let the reader know early on that this is going to be a rough ride in places. Sara Douglass herself has a PhD and teaches in Medieval History, which is most likely the grounding for the novel’s depiction of the harsh realities of a non-technological society, giving the book a fair amount of credibility.

“…by its cover.”

For once, the stock-standard “In The Tradition Of” blurb on the back cover is actually pretty justified. The book is a very easy read, considering its hefty weight, and it rarely slows down in its pace, propelling its protagonists through a variety of experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant, before ending at an appropriate and dramatic juncture in the storyline. In short, BattleAxe is a well-written and effective fantasy novel which feels a lot shorter than it looks. It is the best Australian fantasy novel I’ve experienced to date, and is certainly better than many international novels of a similar ilk. Perhaps the boundaries between Australian genre fiction and that of the rest of the world – the xenophobically defensive “us and them” syndrome discussed in Greg Egan’s article in the last issue – truly are becoming meaningless. BattleAxe’s only real weakness is in its presentation, which may deter even the most ardent fantasy reader. But in every other regard, Sara Douglass’ debut novel can easily hold its own in the cutthroat international fantasy marketplace, and for the first time in a very long time I find myself actually looking forward to the next book in a fantasy series.

All together now – “Don’t…”

©1995 Martin Livings / Jonathan Strahan / Eidolon. Reviewed by Martin Livings for Eidolon, Issue 19, October 1995, pp. 101-102. Reproduced in full with permission.

The Inquisition: BattleAxe

Take one axe for inspiration, one brilliant imagination, and five weeks of weekends and evenings; mix, and what do you get? BattleAxe, book one of The Axis Trilogy, an exciting new epic fantasy by Sara Douglass.

BattleAxe begins the quest by Axis, leader of the elite Axe-Wielders, in a struggle to unite the peoples of the Plough, the Wing and the Horn under one leader; to fight a new and evil force rising to threaten the land of Achar. BattleAxe is a richly threaded tapestry which through the fantasy world it creates, echoes with brilliant clarity, European medieval society.

Throughout the pages of this epic, we are presented with rich detail of medieval life. The opening scene of the work depicts a childbirth not far removed from the medieval reality faced by many women. One does not have to venture much further to recognise the medieval catholic church as providing the basis for Achar’s religious organisation, the Seneschal; whose beliefs (especially regarding the landscape, a major theme in this work) come directly from medieval catholic teachings.

For many ‘medieval history’ students a lot of this may sound a little familiar, which is not really that surprising, as Sara Douglass is no other than La Trobe Bendigo’s very own, and much admired, medieval history lecturer Dr. Sara Warneke.

Much of the inspiration for Sara’s work comes from her daily toil as a medieval historian. For example, the religious culture of the Avar (the people of the Horn) is an amalgamation of European pagan religions, many elements of which still remain in modern western culture and are identifiable by readers. Sara brings to life many of the themes she lectures on in her courses. One of the most vivid is the medieval concept of time. Her use of natural divisions, such as ‘Flower-month’ and ‘Deadleaf-month’ recreates the seasonal calendar of Medieval Europe.

BattleAxe is Sara’s first foray into fantasy. Without anything to read one weekend, Sara decided to write something herself.

Inspired by a small axe she found in an Adelaide shop, BattleAxe was born in a five-week flurry of creative activity.

Initially intended for only a tiny audience (herself), BattleAxe would later fill 660 pages, and lend itself to a much larger audience. BattleAxe is published by HarperCollins, and was in bookstores within a year of creation

Sara’s prolific pen has already produced the second and third volume of The Axis Trilogy, Enchanter and StarMan will be released respectively in April and December of next year (1996) and promises ‘action scenes aplenty’.

BattleAxe is an exciting, action-packed fantasy which promises enchantment, daemons and adventures – for a fantastic read you cannot go past BattleAxe, it is a must for medieval history students. For the non-historian, it’s an inspiration to join one of Sara’s courses!

©1995 Jason Benjamin / The Inquisition. Reviewed by by Jason Benjamin for The Inquisition, published August 30 – September 13, 1995. The Inquisition is an independent student newspaper of La Trobe University, Bendigo. This review originally appeared on Sara Douglass’s website in full.

Redland Times: BattleAxe

battleaxe-1steditioncover-TonyPyrzakowskiAustralian author Sara Douglass has written what could be the first of one of the most popular science fantasy trilogies to arrive in the last few years.

BattleAxe has all the ingredients of such fantasies – magic, battles and intrigue as well as the most evil of people and creatures.

What makes it work so well is that Miss Douglass, a lecturer in early modern European history at Bendigo University, understands her characters and makes them very believable.

Axis is the bastard son of a Princess, who has been taken by a religious order and turned into a fighting machine to protect the kingdom – the so-called BattleAxe.

He commands the best fighting force available, while his evil half brother Borneheld bides his time as WarLord.

A thousand years before these people had driven out the ‘others’ – the winged Icarii and the Avar and burned and destroyed the forests these people loved.

Now a new evil comes from the North and is driving these forbidden people before it and back into the Kingdom of Achar.

Axis has a mission to turn back the evil, but on his way to his destiny finds that he himself is more than he realizes.

This is a cracker of a book and instantly lands Douglass among luminaries like Stephen Donaldson and David Eddings.

©1995 Dennis Neville / The Redland Times. Reviewed by Dennis Neville for the The Redland Times, first published on Friday July 28, 1995.This review originally appeared on Sara Douglass’s website in full.



The original BattleAxe cover

The reprint of BattleAxe with cover by Shaun Tan.

The reprint of BattleAxe with cover by Shaun Tan.

Did you know that BattleAxe went into reprint before it had been released? A second reprint has just come out with a cover by the marvellous artist Shaun Tan (seen below to the right) depicting Axis and a line of Axe-Wielders approaching through an icy landscape towards an exceptionally evil looking Gorkenfort. Thanks Shaun, great job!

How (and why) did I write BattleAxe? Well …

BattleAxe was my first foray into fantasy — I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I wrote BattleAxe some time ago when I simply could not find anything to read one weekend and decided I’d write something myself. Because I wrote BattleAxe for such a tiny audience of one, I’m constantly surprised that anyone else should find it interesting — apparently the dark spaces of my mind are more crowded than I originally thought.

The entire concept for the novel came from a miniature axe I found on a chair in a shop in Adelaide one day. I had sat down, waiting to be served, when I discovered I was sitting on a tiny axe. No-one knew to whom it belonged, so I took it home and, the day I decided I would try my hand at a fantasy novel, pulled it from my purse and stuck it to the casing of my computer — where it rests to this day. I sat down … stared at the axe … and began to type. Once I started I found I could not stop; I wrote BattleAxe in a flurry of activity over five weeks’ worth of evenings and weekends (and many thanks to Louise Thurtell of HarperCollins for finding the book among all the flurry).

The only planning I did for the book was to write some brief notes on the three main races of Tencendor — Acharites, Icarii and Avar; I thought up a plot as I went to suit the characteristics of these races. Axis, StarDrifter, Rivkah and Azhure were the only characters I had any firm idea about; all the others, like the plot, simply got made up as the need and occasion arose (the actual Prophecy of the Destroyer was the last thing I wrote–and, according to one reviewer, I shouldn’t have even bothered then).

Faraday is the best example of a character I constructed on the spur of the moment. When I wrote the scene of Priam’s banquet I needed two minor characters to discuss the characters at the royal table as a ploy to introduce the main players; I never thought to use either of the two again. Devera has sunk without trace, but the moment I finished writing the scene I knew I couldn’t ignore Faraday. So I had to find something to do with her. I sat back and stared at the axe … but for once that wasn’t any help. So I focused a little further afield to the framed print of J.W. Waterhouse’s Circe Invidiosa (1892) hanging above my fireplace — and there I had Faraday, her gown, the Lake, and the magic of the water bowl. The original painting hangs in the Art Gallery of South Australia, so go along and have a look if ever you’re in Adelaide, you’ll recognise her instantly. (Turn to the left from the foyer, and follow the galleries through to the Victorian Gallery — about 2 in. Faraday hangs on the immediate right. Of course, knowing my luck, she’s been shifted by now.)

(Azhure I found recently in Allyn Fisher’s Fine Art Gallery here in Bendigo. She’s a bronze bust by Diedre Walsh-Fitton, and quite extraordinary … as befits Azhure.)

Much of the inspiration for the world of Tencendor came from my daily toil as a medieval historian. The medieval Catholic Church provided the basis for the Seneschal; all of the beliefs of the Seneschal (especially regarding attitudes to landscape) come directly from medieval Catholic teachings. The Avar once wandered eastern Europe, and I use an amalgam of pagan European culture for their religion — much of which remains in modern western culture. We still worship the (Christmas) tree at Yuletide, while Beltide (May Day, again worship of the tree — the may-pole) and Fire-Night (Midsummer’s Eve) are still marked in many areas of Europe. The Horned Ones were gods of pagan Europe, as was Artor the Ploughman — I have used a bit of artistic license to link him with the medieval Church’s alter-ego, the Seneschal. Some of the Icarii culture owes something to Greco-Roman myth, but that will become more obvious in Books 2 (Enchanter) and 3 (StarMan); I promise never to fly StarDrifter too close to the sun. All of my students can read BattleAxe and recognise six months’ worth of my lectures! (Of course, all of my students should be so busy studying they shouldn’t have time to browse these pages.)

The hardest thing I found about writing BattleAxe was thinking up original names — oftentimes I dipped into medieval poetry and legend for inspiration (as Raymond Feist and Stephen Donaldson have done). Many aristocratic names are Saracen characters from The Song of Roland, while most of the Smyrton peasant names came from the little village of Myddle in England (immortalised in Richard Gough’s The History of Myddle). Rivkah was a name I spotted in the credits of an American soap, while Axis is an obvious derivation from ‘axe’. Place names usually sprang unannounced into my head — but you’ll find one or two Tolkienish references, while South Australians can revel in local names! Some names have been changed from the original manuscript — most notably Gorgrael who I named originally Sathanas (from The Song of Roland).

Coping with patterns of speech, time and distance was also hard. As far as speaking went, I had to be careful not to have characters speak in phrases or use words that are too associated with our modern world — no ‘okays’ for instance. As for curses! Well, the ‘by Artor!’ was okay, but I had to be inventive as far as cursing went (and some of the best got cut — damn!). Using time was also hard; patterns of time are so ingrained in us it is almost impossible to have the reader accept any major changes. The Tencendorian year, like ours, has twelve months, and it was all right to have characters use expressions that used natural divisions of time (a day, or a morning, for instance) but I tried to avoid too many small or artificial distinctions of time like hour or minute — although sometimes that couldn’t be helped. Distance — leagues have the right feel about them, although I may have made them a bit long, but small distances (what we would use centimetres or inches for) were a nightmare!

By the way, the wrong scale got onto the map of Achar. It should have been smaller, thus increasing distances.

My favourite character? Azhure — by Book 3 you’ll know why.

©1995 Sara Douglass

Follow this link to see the maps of Tencendor and Escator, the realms where The Axis Trilogy, The Wayfarer Redemption, Beyond the Hanging Wall and Darkglass Mountain trilogy are set.

Editors note: BattleAxe is Book 1 of The Axis Trilogy. Overseas it was called The Wayfarer Redemption and The Axis Trilogy was the first half of the series of six books.