Haze, the fantastic sequel to Shadows, was published on October 3rd in the UK and you can read my review here. Long story short: I loved it! As part of the UK blog tour, Paula has written a fantastic guest post about weapons in urban fantasy, and I'll admit I was fascinated when I was reading it. It's also made me even *more* excited for Shimmer, if that's possible. Can't wait!
Anyway, here's Paula to tell you all about guns and swords and how they fit into her Rephaim world. Hope you enjoy!
First up, before I start, I’d like to stress that this post is about violence in fictitious worlds. I’m not a fan of violence in the real world. In a fictitious urban fantasy world, violence is generally tempered by the fact the characters are faster and stronger than humans, are often immortal, and tend to have heightened healing powers. Of course these characters still have weaknesses, but they’re rarely as vulnerable as ‘ordinary’ humans.
Okay, now that’s sorted…
I thought I’d talk about the tradition of urban fantasy characters using pre-industrial-revolution weapons, even though they live in a modern world where high-powered guns and other deadly weapons are available to them.
With the Rephaim series, I decided the only way my angels, half-angels, demons and hellions could kill each other was by decapitation. So it made sense to me that they would use swords rather than guns.
The angels and demons in my series prefer medieval-style broadswords, and the half-angel Rephaim use Japanese katanas (as well as knives, twin-bladed sais, and the occasional poleaxe).
In my thinking, the angels and demons have been using the more archaic weapons for thousands of years and aren’t particularly open to change – not when more modern weapons can’t do the job any better.
The Rephaim though, who have only been around for a hundred and thirty-nine years, would’ve wanted to master something more modern and easier to use than a broadsword. Given it still had to involve a sharp blade, the katana was an obvious choice.
But there are other benefits in choosing swords over fire-powered weapons from a storytelling perspective, particularly when it comes to characterisation.
When hand-to-hand weapons are involved, fight scenes can become about more than just action: they can also be a vehicle for character development. How a character fights says a lot about them. Are they reckless, technical, patient, aggressive, brutal, tentative, defensive?
Using a sword requires skill and fitness, which makes fighting and training more physical and intimate. Characters can interact in the heat of a fight, ramping up tension (like Gaby’s encounter with Bel in Haze, and the hellion in Shadows) or peeling back a layer in a relationship (like Gaby’s training session with Rafa in Haze or her clash with Uriel in Shadows).
Swordplay requires discipline. So it says something that a character like Rafa – who’s far from disciplined in any other area of his life – is focused enough to keep his skills and instincts sharp.
And – while not the case in the Rephaim series – swords can be characters themselves, bonded to those who wield them. Adding that element of magic and mysticism.
That’s not to say that gun-wielding supernatural beings are any less dynamic or effective on the page – it’s just a different take on the genre. Iconic Hong Kong director and writer John Woo (Hard Target, Face/Off) went a long way toward making gunfights more physical. He’s the guy who pioneered slow-motion shoot-outs where people dive through the air blasting guns from both hands; spin around – guns drawn – with perfect form and posture; and generally look like they’re performing some sort of ballet/martial arts hybrid. All in effort to bring physicality to gunfights. That style of gun-based action has now become a staple across of range of literary genres too (including urban fantasy).
One of the most appealing things about urban fantasy is the idea of the ‘other’ existing in a world that’s familiar to us. For me, having supernatural beings wielding swords in a modern world – in the shadow of a looming, epic battle – adds to that sense of ‘otherness’.
Ultimately, urban fantasy writers will chose the weapons and fighting styles that work best for the characters and their stories, and for the Rephaim series, it was swords over guns… mostly.