Jasper disaster!


Tough Jasper Hike

Sometimes you don’t get what you plan. Rarely does it turn out better than expected. but today it really did.

This started as another scouting mission. Pyramid Mountain. If you’ve ever been to Jasper or seen a picture of the town, you’ll know this mountain.




Here’s what the tracker say’s about it. Just about 3000 feet. 4 hours round trip. I’m in so-so shape (there’s an extra 30 pounds to haul up any hill) so I’m halfway proud.


This is the middle of May. A holiday weekend in Canada, so Jasper was busy. It’s also the first May Long in living memory where there hasn’t been rain or a blizzard. Nope. 25 Degrees C (77F)

Halfway up, the trail branches.  Left if you want the approach to Pyramid, right if you want to check out the Palisades Lookout. This is where I caught up to Claire from Luxumborg, this is also where we ran into snow. Wet, heavy, mushy snow. Good place to leave my bike — I’d been pushing it for 2 miles anyway.

Claire (apologies for mis-spelling, if necessary) was heading to the Lookout and I joined her.

The snow got deeper and deeper, and once we realized there was next to no snow in the trees, we started taking shortcuts, cutting off a series of switchbacks. Steep is easier than deep.

When the trees started thinning out, Pierce and Tallia (again with the spelling) from Edmonton caught up to us. They’d been following our fresh tracks in the snow. The four of us pushed on to the top. Here’s what we saw.








It was a great hike, and I met awesome people. If I had gone it alone, like I’d planned, I would have turned back as soon as I hit the snow. Since we winged it the last 600 feet of elevation, we didn’t hit the real lookout. I blame the snow, but we got spectacular views anyway.




Time to get a mountain bike

Now that I live in the mountains, I decided to break my vow and buy a mountain bike. The snow hasn’t quite melted enough but I couldn’t wait any longer. I’m keeping my old bike for now. It’s an ’89 Fiore that I must have put 10,000 miles on it over 25 years and it still rides like a dream.

I picked a Norco Storm 7.1. Here it is on today’s ride.


There are a couple of mountain scrambles that require you to bike up to the starting point. 

Pyramid mountain is something I’d like to bag this summer. The pic here shows it in the background of the town of Jasper. As you can see on the map, there’s a 14 km (8 1/2 mile) bike ride before you start climbing.


2 Hawk Mountain scouting missions

Here are two looks at Hawk Mountain, sitting beside a bend in Highway 16 in Jasper National Park. I took two trips, January and February, to scout out routes to the top.

Hawk Mountain PanoramaHere’s some particulars:

Elevation: 8350 ft

Total Climb height: 5100 feet. That’s like climbing the Empire State Building three-and-a-half times. Then you gotta come down

This is a fairly ambitious scramble in summer. The guides claim it’s about 7 to 10 hours to cover 10.5 miles.

On the first scout, I wanted to check the standard route.

Highway view of Hawk Path1This was a great hike. Mid-January it had been several degrees above freezing for, like, 10 days, and it was even warmer for this scramble. You can see the point where I stopped. That’s where the climbing is mostly rock. I was alone, and was starting to run into deep snow. If I’d gotten hurt, it would have taken a helicopter to get me out. 

Actually, it’s a bit of a story. I didn’t follow any plan or map. I had an idea that there was a chimney in the two mile length of rock outcrop where they say you need to get up from the wooded slope through to the alpine ridge. I wanted to spot it, detoured through a 300 foot gorge, then went ahead on instinct. That rock-face to the left of the peak is about two miles long.

Long story short. I went straight to it. 


I had to compare the video I took to pictures others had taken of this crucial middle point on the climb.

The Second Trip

Highway view of Hawk Path 2

From the highway, this looks like a kinder, gentler path, but it also looks like it adds a good 2 miles to the journey. As I learned from the first trek, one gorge can make a seemingly easy path extremely difficult.

This time, the enemy was snow. And Cold.Mountain Hammock



Winter Mountain Selfie





It’s almost impossible to convey the scale of what you’re looking at, but I caught this video of a chopper in the valley to the west of me.

February Hike
End of First Hike
First Hike

Less than Noble launch

riou_less-than-noble_fb1_1200x628-1Less than Noble is out, and I’m putting a little more publishing experience into its launch.  The price is low (for the launch weekend it’s free!) and I have asked a few friendly websites to display it.

If you’re on the fence about picking it up, here’s some insight into the book:
  • It is a combination of Flintlock and Fantasy.  Sharpe, Hornblower, Aubrey type stories that have magic and monsters. War and Peace and Magic.
  • King’s law controls the use of magic, including magical weapons, potions, healing, etc.
  • Powerful nobles have royal charters that allow them companies of heroic adventurers with unlimited use of magic. These are called Sicarian Charters
  • In Less than Noble, the Double Duchess, Chandolyn Vusson, hires sicarians as bodyguards for a visit to her enemy. She needs them.
  • Big battles. There are fights of all sizes in Less than Noble, but what sets this book apart is the clash of armies. Instead of a duel, nobles with a problem can call each other out in a set piece battle. They arrange their armies like a chess game and have at it.
  • Muskets, cannons, crossbows, cavalry, swords, armour, spells, healing potions, . You get it all and more with Less than Noble.

Less than Noble

Are you ready for more of Orthane, Cora, and Menton. This time they are facing musket-wielding assassin armies. Flintlock Fantasy at a whole new level.

The sequel to More than Monsters is humming along. I have written 100 pages in three weeks. Another 25,000 words and I’ll be done the first draft. Total length  will be  320 pages

Here’s a preliminary blurb.

Chandolyn is a duchess with a sordid past. Eight years ago she helped murder her husband, but the gods found her innocent. Now, her late husband’s friends have lain a trap at their country estate.

LuckilRiou_LESS THAN NOBLE_ebooky, she brings heroes with her. Not-so-luckily, she has paired Cora and Orthane among her bodyguards. When those two met in More than Monsters, Orthane, a psychotic bully at his best moments, tried to kill Cora. She had to save him to save the quest. They’re fighting for their lives again. Orthane has not changed his wicked ways; Cora is determined to end them forever.

You’ve seen the frontier of Illag, now you can see how things get done in civilization. Nobles fight each other with intrigues and armies. Chandolyn, a seductive spy, and her bodyguards, magically charged warriors, are thrown into the middle of a revolution. They must fend off musket-wielding assassins led by an immortal warrior-mage, while picking the right side in the coming war.

If you think our world is saturated with medieval fantasy, if you’ve had it up to here (ears) with YA fantasy, try Flintlock Fantasy. Napoleonic armies, civilization in revolutionary upheaval, magic, and monsters. Lots of cussin’ and blood, too. Once you go black (powder), you’ll never go back.

If you’ve read this far…

…you have a chance to tell me how shitty my new book is going to be. It’s late July, now: by the third week of August, I’ll be passing around the third draft of Less than Noble as advance reader copies (ARCs to industry insiders). I have a whopping 2 beta readers; big time authors have five or six hundred. If you’re interested, email me at jasonriou@gmail.com. You might be the first to find out who dies.

Flintlock Fantasy

prussian_armyFlintlock fantasy is a growing sub-genre of fantasy set in something like a Napoleonic age. Muskets and magic. Canons and cabals. Add wizards and dragons to War and Peace or The Three Musketeers: pretty damn exciting.

Here’s some examples of the genre.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

There was a lot of hype about it, but it didn’t ring my bell. I got through 200 pages, then when I skipped to the end to see what effect the introduction of magic had on the Napoleonic wars I saw that it changed nothing. Nice evocation of writers of the early 1800s (I took a few lit classes covering the period) but not what I wanted to see from a fantasy perspective.

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan.

Excellent. Revolution. Conspiracies. Swordfights. Muskets. Introduces a powder mage, a class of magic wielder with a gun. They are great marksmen that can use gunpowder to fire a shot or eat it to cast a spell. That brilliant innovation alone is enough to read the whole corpus of McClellan’s Powder Mage books. You also get the roiling political power-grabbing you’d expect of the black powder age.

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler.

Beautiful. The magic is more subdued in Wexler’s world, or contained by the church. This story puts you right in the boots of 2 officers in an army on campaign, led by a brilliant general with a secret agenda. The pitched battles are terrific.

There are others I have yet to read. Some cover the colonial or revolution eras of America.

The genre isn’t new–you could say that the 3 Musketeers, written almost 200 years after it’s depicted setting, has more than a little fantasy to it–but the tropes are still not set. McClellan and Wexler draw on themes from the enlightment: realpolitik, revolution, new empowerment for peasants and women, challenging the established church. FF is still in infancy since no single work has exploded in sales to draw creative minds after it.


I think thefr_revolution time is right for flinklock. The era that it echoes is regularly thrown up on the screen. Both Dumas and Tolstoy get regularly remade. The latest on BBC (W&P, and 3M) have done a great job depicting battle and setting. I really like AMCs Turn for the same reasons. Black-powder re-enactors (American civil war and otherwise) continue to go strong. The right addition of magic to any of these three should knock flintlock fantasy into the mainstream.



Here’s some trope ideas to knock around.

One person (or one item) is not enough to save the world. It takes a movement. The enlightenment is an age of changing minds. High, medieval fantasy cornered the market on this anyway.

Magic is institutional. Like the mix of church and state The Winter Palace exteriorfrom the 16 to the 1800s. There were lone priests trying to do their own thing in our history, but the existing churches either squashed them, exiled them, or co-opted them. The whole magical superstructure should be part of the ruling apparatus (which may or may not be overthrown as part of the story). In other words, a wizard on a quest has duties to his superiors in magedom, and maybe to the govt.

In the army. I’d say that the flintlock thing puts guns into the mix, and in history there was almost no way to brew up your own gunpowder. The training, manufacture, and production of arms and materiel put it at the disposal of big and powerful players. The subjugation of newly discovered worlds is a very interesting look at this. Governments tried dozens of way of empowering new types of organizations for this hideous, risky work.

Destruction of the Nobility Revolutions do that.

Interiors-of-the-Winter-Palace-The-AnteroomRise of Merchants. Power definitely shifts from the landed aristocracy to the savvy banking and trading families.

Conspiracies. Illuminati and freemasons originate in the gunpowder age

I have long been a historical enthusiast of key flintlock sources. Books covering era of revolutions (from Cromwell to Robespierre with a big focus on the 13 colonies) fill my shelves. I know a hundred times as much about these societies as I ever did about medieval counterparts. Still, it took me ten years to change the setting in my own fiction.

Things I’m doing in my books.

It takes a mage to set off a gun. I avoided moving my fantasy over to gunpowder because a fireball is so much cheaper than a cannon. So I made Peters (short for salt-peter) as specialized mages who work with artillery, and Niters (corruption of igniters or Nitre for active nitrogen) as ones that work with units of musketeers.

Early magico-industrialization. I have the arcanerant in place of the steam engines and mills. Magic users of peasant stock are pretty much enslaved to feed raw magic into productive manufacturing. Magicians from the aristocracy are closer to the magicians of other fantasy.

Magic hurts more than the blasted. It is a carefully guarded secret, but using too much magic turns a mage into a monster. Literally. Opening a conduit through which magic travels can get out of hand and turn Merlin into a troll that’ll eat his friends.

Magic is tightly controlled. It takes a permit to cast a spell, drink a potion, own a magic shield. Peasants and yeomen can’t access it at all (unless they are unlucky enough to be an archanik–see arcanerant above). Religious superstition, state authority, and the sheer danger of unrestrained magic all reinforce this tight lid.

Splendid architecture. The era of the Chateau and the Hermitage. How can you not? Magic in the masonry might make things even more splendid.

Pike and Shot The 1600s are my mine of precious resources. The English civil war and the 30 years war were the proving grounds of new military, social, religious, and political principals. Companies were just testing out the integration of muskets inside pikemen units. This was also the century where the American colonies fought the natives and each other in a pitched, life and death, frontier struggle.

Adventure Inc. Companies and charters were the era’s new experiments for organizing people and getting things done. So I made up sicarians, royal charters of adventuring heroes that slay monsters, fight special-forces battles, and protect powerful people at the pleasure of the upper nobles who own them.

If you’re looking to read or (hopefully) write in this exciting genre, let the pictures guide you far more than my half baked ideas.

Second Book Progress Report

Less than Noble has a cover. I worked with Inspired Cover Designs to get this and I love it. If only my writing could kRiou_LESS THAN NOBLE_ebookeep up with Domi’s talent and speed. Honestly, from first contact to finished product took less than two weeks. The book’s release, well, I may have to delay that because of changes in my work. I was putting in an hour or two a day & the first draft is up to 30,000 words (120 pages), and for a few months, I won’t even be able to manage that. 🙁

Will You Like My Books?

Like many writers, I wasn’t finding the types of books I wanted to read. So here is my laundry list.

  • No prophecies. No one in the book knows what is going to happen. Some people might pretend, but they’re full of shit. Choices influence outcomes and outcomes can be steered.
  • No one is saving the world. The world is crappy and getting worse, just like ours, but I want characters to stress out about their next paycheck, or meeting that girl/guy,  or protecting some plucky orphan: end of motivation.
  • Characters that live and feel. If I spend some time in a characters head, experience their world through their hopes and shortcomings, I might connect with them (or hate them a bunch)
  • Easy on the Worldbuilding.  You got a whole book to find out the rules of the fantasy world. And, you know what? It’s fantasy, you probably got half a dozen books to get it out there. If I meet a character, I want his backstory, motivation, quirks, etc revealed gradually, over the course of the story. Well, the world is another character.
  • Fight scenes. There should be more than ‘hero killed the guy on the left, then he injured the guy on the right,’ pardon the exaggeration. I want a blow by blow account. I want it to be like you’re holding the sword and feel the hits.
  • Battle Scenes. A particular wierdness of mine. I like the wargaming. I like video games where you’re the general issuing orders to units around (any TotalWar game)
  • A bit over the top. It’s fantasy, it can feel real, but stupendous things have to happen. The fights in 300 and Spartacus: Blood and Sand are absurd, but they’re exciting and memorable. It’s the lesson of Comic Books
  • What just happened? Yeah, I like to be blindsided. I took a long break from reading fantasy because it was getting predictable.
  • Books for grownups. I don’t know what to say. Writers tailoring their stories to  a certain demographic can be brilliant, but usually is sacrificing good shit.
  • No axe to grind. I tried writing stuff that will change people’s minds. I can’t even read it. I just want to be entertained.

There’s lots of good fantasy out there, but I haven’t found an author that delivers on more than a couple of things on my list. Any one item done to perfection is enough to get me to like it, though. I write stories that do a mediocre job on all of the above. This is a little taste of what I do.