Sunday, November 5, 2017

Guest Post & Giveaway: THE JACKAL'S HOUSE by Anna Butler (Lancaster's Luck #2)-Includes Excerpt!

Fun With Kaleidoscopes

One of my favourite author games to play is world building. I can witter on about it for hours. I love my characters, both heroes and villains, and I love coming up with the plotty twists and turns that test them, but my greatest delight is creating the world and society they live in.

If you’re writing pure science fiction (as I do) you get a complete free rein to create the worlds your heroes live in. That’s the ultimate world-building wet dream, starting from the atom up, so to speak. You can create planets and systems and technologies, think up entirely new forms of government and you can certainly have some nifty alien enemies to play with. With the Lancaster’s Luck series, though—the steampunk/high adventure/m-m romance—I have a few more constraints, as it’s set in a version of the Victorian era that’s been skewed a few inches to the right (or left!) of the real thing. I still need a setting to be recognisably London or Cairo or Abydos, but with a twist.

Think of it as a kaleidoscope, full of pretty patterns created by the infinite reflections of small pieces of coloured glass and mica. The pattern you see is, say, London or Cairo in 1900. You give it a twirl and a shake, and the pattern, made of the same pieces, settles into a slightly different shape—Londinium or Cairo, 1900, where everything is powered by luminferous aether and cold fusion, and aeroships fill the skies. But it’s the same set of pieces, remember. They’re just in a different array.

So. Much. Fun.

I hope the settings are recognisable. Rafe’s coffeehouse is in Museum Street, a few yards from the British Museum, and the building is still there, it’s façade untouched. Shepheard’s hotel in Cairo was rebuilt in the 1950s after a fire, but you can still photographs of the old hotel on the web, including pictures of the ornate pharaonic décor my hero, Rafe Lancaster, describes in The Jackal’s House. The Temple of Seti at Abydos is one of the most lovely and evocative of the remains of Ancient Egypt. They’re all there. All real.

But it’s still an alternate universe. That gives me a lot of scope to play around with other aspects of Rafe’s world. The geography is the same, but the way society works is very different. And this is where I had some real fun, shaking that kaleidoscope!

I worked in government all my career. I know how government departments do business, and I’ve worked closely with ministers and politicians. Frankly, most of them are an uninspiring lot. So one aspect of Rafe’s world that seemed fair game to put into the kaleidoscope, was the political system.

In 1900, Britain in this world still had an empire covering a quarter of the globe. In Rafe’s AU, steampunk world, that empire is the Britannic Imperium. The head of the Imperium is the Queen (God Bless Her), ruling over the Convocation, an oligarchy of eight great Houses, each with their own satellite Minor House allies. These are not, technically, aristocrats as we know them. They aren’t Lord this or Duke that. Each House is far more important than mere blue blood.

Ironically, they’re called by an archaic name for an occupation. House Gallowglass (a warrior or mercenary), House Jongleur (a travelling minstrel), House Archiator (a physician), House Cartomancer (a fortune teller) etc… believe me, I had loads of fun trawling the web for old words to describe the job once held by some ancestor of each House. The head of each House takes his title as the Gallowglass, the Jongleur, the Archiator, and so on—one reflection of the real 1900 is that society is a patriarchy. The head of a House is male and his First Heir is male: the Suffragettes are not a big feature in Rafe’s world.

But then, what vote could they win if they were?

The Britannic Imperium isn’t a democracy, even the watered down men-only one that the real 1900 Britain enjoyed. Instead, the heads of the eight Convocation Houses are the government. They each have one or more of the major government departments as their fiefdom, and they rule the country through them, staffing each department with their relatives and those of the Minor Houses allied to them. House Gallowglass is the most powerful. Having gained control of the Treasury and the nation’s purse strings, it can hold the other Houses to ransom.

So the men in power don’t have to get elected. They don’t face boring hustings, don’t need to make speeches, attend rallies or kiss babies. If they’re looking to advance the influence of their House, politics demands a lot of jockeying for position and power. The tool of choice to remove enemies? Assassination. Or at least it was, until Victoria lost patience, and banned outright killing by the Houses. Now they’re sneakier. Autocar ‘accidents’ and ‘food poisoning’ make sure that political life in the Imperium is never, ever dull. Democracy, though, is in decided deficit.

Interesting times, then, to be alive and a player in the game, even a reluctant one. Rafe Lancaster is a member of House Stravaigor, a Minor House allied to the Cartomancer ‘Stravaigor’, by the way, is an old word for a wanderer, or a vagrant and Rafe certainly personifies that). But Rafe hates the Houses, hates that he has to play House politics to better himself, despises those who are caught up in House machinations. He despises his House, his First Heir, and the head of his House, the Stravaigor; although with the last, it’s mixed with reluctant respect. The Stravaigor, in return, considers Rafe to be an iconoclast rebel. Which he is. But the Stravaigor also considers him an asset—which he is.

As to what else the Stravaigor considers him… well, you’ll find out in The Jackal’s House. Let’s just say that it ties in with that political system that Rafe loathes so much and that in future, the kaleidoscope might be clasped in Rafe’s hand, waiting for him to give it a sharp shake. Who knows then what pattern the pieces will fall into?

(All images by Nicole Vaughan, Flickr, under Creative Commons licence -

Buy Links: 

Length: 114,000 words approx. 
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Design: Reese Dante

Lancaster's Luck Series

The Gilded Scarab (Book #1) Amazon US | Amazon UK 

About The Series

Lancaster's Luck is set in a steampunk world where, at the turn of the 20th century, the eight powerful Convocation Houses are the de facto rulers of the Britannic Imperium. In this world of politics and assassins, a world powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston and where aeroships fill the skies, Captain Rafe Lancaster, late of Her Majesty's Imperial Aero Corps, buys a coffee house in one of the little streets near the Britannic Museum in Bloomsbury.

So begins the romantic steampunk adventures which have Rafe, a member of Minor House Stravaigor, scrambling over Londinium's rooftops on a sultry summer night or facing dire peril in the pitch dark of an Aegyptian night. And all the while, sharing the danger is the man he loves: Ned Winter, First Heir of Convocation House Gallowglass, the most powerful House in the entire Imperium.


Something is stalking the Aegyptian night and endangering the archaeologists excavating the mysterious temple ruins in Abydos. But is it a vengeful ancient spirit or a very modern conspiracy.

Rafe Lancaster's relationship with Gallowglass First Heir, Ned Winter, flourishes over the summer of 1900, and when Rafe's House encourages him to join Ned's next archaeological expedition, he sees a chance for it to deepen further. Since all the Houses of the Britannic Imperium, Rafe's included, view assassination as a convenient solution to most problems, he packs his aether pistol - just in case.

Trouble finds them in Abydos. Rafe and Ned begin to wonder if they're facing opposition to the Temple of Seti being disturbed. What begins as tricks and pranks escalates to attacks and death, while the figure of the Dog - the jackal-headed god, Anubis, ruler of death - casts a long shadow over the desert sands. Destruction follows in his wake as he returns to reclaim his place in Abydos. Can Rafe and Ned stand against both the god and House plots when the life of Ned's son is on the line?


“We have a thirty-minute window before there’s a commercial flight.” Haines gestured with his remaining hand toward the front window and the view of the aerodrome. “Shall we?”

My mouth was dry. All the moisture in me was in my hands. I had to take my hand away from the control yoke—the joystick—to wipe sweaty palms against my trouser leg.

She moved slowly under her own power down the access road to the aerostrip itself. Once at the end of the strip, I halted her, keeping the engine revs high. Haines tapped the gauge showing engine power. “She’s much heavier and bigger than your old aerofighter. You’ll need to be heavier on the throttle, push her hard until the power level hits the gold line, then pull her up sharp but smooth. Ready?”

Why did people always ask you that just before you did something massively unwise? Still, onward for Queen and country. I took a rather shaky but deep breath and started her down the runway, listening to Haines’s instructions. Throttle in hard, watch the speedometer, feet on the rudder bar to control her yaw and keep her straight, keep the paddles at the right angle to catch the headwind’s lift and keep the airflow silky and fluid, listen to the quiet roar of the aether/petroleum engine at the stern, feel the shuddering of the frame in every atom of my body… and now! Now. The gold line on the power level monitor gleamed and glinted, and I pulled back on the joystick…. Keep it smooth! Keep it smooth… and up she went, whispering into the sky with the gentle fluidity of thick cream sliding over plate glass.

Beside me, Haines kept up an unflustered monologue of encouragement. “Ease her back a trifle, let the wind catch her… good, good. Feel the turbos kicking in? That will give you all the throttle power you need. Five hundred feet… level her out now. Throttle back… bring her around to port… excellent, Lancaster. Well done. Very smooth.”

I glanced down as the edges of Londinium slid away under us and we headed northwest, out toward St. Albans. Before us were the rising Chiltern hills and the browning quilt patch of Buckinghamshire’s rich farmlands basking in the mild sun of a clear late-autumn day. Behind us and to the left squatted the great black bulk of Londinium, huddled under its usual pall of smokes and steams. The air there was so thick with vapor that the buildings were little more than a dark mass in the murky brume. But here, out over the fields, we were far enough outside the city for the air to be cleaner and clear.

The sky curved above us, a bright blue overhead fading to something yellower at the horizon, streaked with thin white clouds. The sun was climbing up toward noon a little to our left and to our stern, sending our shadow sliding and slithering diagonally up the hillsides. Beneath us, the engines throbbed, the heart of the ship beating out a gentle, monotonous thrum of mechanical life. When I touched the controls, she responded with all the eager energy of a thoroughbred in a race. The earth beneath me rolled away—remote, beautiful, an exquisitely detailed toy landscape of field and wood and little villages made by some great mechanic.

The green-brown of hills and fields blurred for a moment, and I had to blink, every limb light and every sense sharp and clear, riding out the surge of joy that had me glowing as if the sun had taken refuge under my ribs.

The skies were mine again. Icarus was reborn, thrusting aloft on wings of gold.

And just for a moment, I was a god, striding through the heavens like a Colossus.

Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo.


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