The Wounded Kingdom Fantasy Playlist
Novel Playlists from Fantasy Novelists treats each fantasy novel like a feature film and encourages the author to put together their own dream soundtrack. With Blood of Assassins just out to add another chapter to the adventures of Girton Club-Foot in his well-received debut Age of Assassins, RJ Barker assaults our eardrums with his personal playlist for The Wounded Kingdom he created. (Listen to it in Spotify here.)
Poor Mouth – 16 Horsepower: From the moment I first heard this it sounded like deserts. There’s something empty and arid about this song and it slowly builds and builds. The whole tempo of it makes me think of the Tired Lands and the way I built the books to rise up in tension and then fall back. It’s a beautiful song by an utterly unique band.
Pazuzu (Black Rain) – The Nefilim: The action sequences in the books, particularly when it’s just Girton, are kind of slowed down and balletic. But in my head I see them at full speed with a flashing strobe – cos he really is quite frightening. And this is the song, it’s not the fastest or most extreme metal, but it’s the relentlessness of it, I think. It never lets up.
Gullible’s Travels – Soul Asylum: Soul Asylum went on to become really famous and a radio friendly and I immediately lost interest (so hipster, much snobbery) but this song was one I heard when I was really young and it’s always stuck with me. Partly because I’ve always kind of identified with the title: it has a real sense of wide eyed melancholy to it. It’s probably part of Girton, in Age of Assassin’s anyway, (maybe not Blood of Assassin’s Girton. But maybe it is.)
“Everything’s turning but mostly just turning out wrong,’ indeed.
Killing in the Name Of – Rage Against the Machine: Girton, in Age of Assassins is really quite likeable. In Blood of Assassins, maybe a bit less so. There was a definite idea that In AoA I would build up some likeability credit for Girton and then spend it in BoA. I don’t particularly love this song, but the famous refrain, ‘fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me,’ kept going through my head and making me laugh as I was writing Blood of Assassins. (I have put this on a playlist I’ve been listening to while doing this and it REALLY does not fit.)
Fields of the Nephilim. (Earth Inferno. Live 1990.) – Last Exit for the Lost: Xus the Unseen, god of death, is a constant presence in the books. He’s not a dark god, or a terrifying figure – despite bringing death. And this song, dreamy and otherwordly, makes me think of Xus the Unseen and my more impressionistic bits of writing. And I love this band, their music is probably a huge influence on everything I write which is why they get two inclusions here in various guises.
Dar He Drone – Jay Munly featuring David Eugene Edwards: Throughout the books Girton struggles with a voice in his head, it’s not a good voice. But I think this song captures something of it. I didn’t realise how much scary folk music had infused these books, but is has. We’ll be returning to Edwards separately and in different incarnations later on. Both he and Munly are stunning artists with powerful and unique lyrical approaches. Munly particularly is a storyteller and I listened to loads of his music while writing, this is just the most book appropriate.
Parked Outside – The Afghan Whigs: The Whigs’ dirty soul rock probably has no place in the Wounded Lands but they are one of my favourite bands and this track from their comeback album Do To The Beast does kind of work. It reminds me of Girton’s character. Musically it’s strutting, brash and confident but lyrically it’s a far more delicate. ‘You’re gonna make me, break down and cry.’ Oh, Girton.
All The Pretty Little Horses – Current 93 (There’s also a version with Nick Cave.): Hold me. I’m scared.
The Refractory – Wovenhand: I remember having a night out, a long time ago, when everything was terrible. I can’t quite remember why it was terrible, no doubt it felt very important then but in the way of these things the reasons melt away. What I do remember is I ended up staying up all night and spending all my money so I had to walk home. There I was, miserable, cold, walking home with no money in the pitch black through silent streets, feeling very lonely and sorry for myself. And then the sun rose – and it was a magical moment, it swept away all the sadness. And that is part of what I wanted to capture in the Wounded Kingdom books, that moment when the sun rises and you’re filled with hope. And that is how this song sounds to me.
Cygnus – Cult of Luna: I know, it’s a song about space but I had this album on heavy rotation while I was writing King of Assassins and it’s a wonderful, strange and dark and claustrophobic album. So we hope…
The Usher – SubRosa: Another record that really captures the ‘scorched’ feeling of the Tired Lands. And the slow ramping up of this song into something enormous and chaos filled kind of echoes the way I try and write a book. It’s also a song filled with the fear of nature that I think runs through Blood of Assassins, they call their nature spirits “the hedgings” but that anthropomorphising of nature is common to humans and I think this song turns it into something sad and powerful. And that refrain, ‘all of my life’ I’ve been waiting for you.’ That was in my head.
Standing – VNV Nation: There’s not much (well, no) electronica in this list and I like quite a lot of it but it tends to lend itself more to SF that Fantasy. But I like the chorus of this, and the lyrics – “And fighting time so hard I pray/That this moment lasts forever/And will the world stay standing still, at least for me.” Kind of feels quite Girtony. In Age of Assassins there’s a bit where he just gets to be a kid and there are no real complications in his life for a bit. I think that’s sort of a golden and perfect time for him. Something he can never go back to and that lyric makes me think of that feeling, longing for something that maybe never really was.
Winter – New Model Army: If I had thought a bit further ahead (something I rarely do) I may have done another book. Because Age of Assassins takes place in the Tired Lands autumn, Blood of Assassins in spring and King of Assassins in summer. Sometimes I kick myself about this but mostly I just accept I am a creatively restless person and would probably have spent the writing of a fourth book wanting to be doing something new. So firstly this song makes me think of that.
And, literally today, I’ve just finished King of Assassins, sent the proofs back to the lovely people at Orbit. So this is also kind of a farewell to Girton, Merela, Rufra, Xus and the rest.
“So let the weary land be rested and the killing season over
Let the shadows stretch forever in the light of burnished silver
For I fear the age of consequence and I wish that it was over
Bring me the snowfall, bring me the cold wind, bring me the winter.” – Justin Sullivan.
RJ Barker is the Antler Overlord and author of the critically acclaimed Wounded Kingdom books: Age of Assassins, Blood of Assassins and King of Assassins(August 2018). He lives in Yorkshire, England with his wife, son, a very bitey cat and a strange collection of odd art, odder taxidermy, so verymany books and quite a lot of noisy music. He loves writing and people and antlers and dreams of one day owning a stuffed Victorian moose’s head. But who doesn’t.
He can be found on Twitter @dedbutdrmng, on Facebook at ThatRJBarker, or at his website: rjbarkerblog.wordpress.com.