Tough Travelling: Woodsmen (Archers)
Welcome intrepid adventurers to Tough Travelling with the Tough Guide to Fantasyland!
That’s right, we’ve dusted it down and brought back this feature (created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived by our friends over on Fantasy Faction, then dragged kicking and screaming to the Hive).
It is a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then comment with the link on this article!
This month, we’re looking at WOODSMEN in Fantasy, and expanding it to include archers. Here’s what DWJ had to say on the matter…
Woodsmen live in the WOODS and can be either human or Other. They seldom join a Tour, but are often met in the course of it. Frequently they are hostile and suspicious to begin with. You may have to work hard to get them on the side of the Tour. Mostly they simply want to go on living privately. This is particularly true if they are nymphs or satyrs, who are the only kind of Woods people to DWELL on the ground. All other types live up TREES and come down on long rope ladders to parley. Most of them are wonderful trackers and make very useful scouts in the ARMY of the GOOD. The majority also have trained BIRDS, which are telepathically bonded to their owners – this makes the Woodsmen’s scouting even more effective. Quite a few Woodsmen are also MAGIC USERS, often of a strange and powerful kind, having imbibed the secrets of Nature from the Woods over the centuries. Tourists are advised to be very polite to Woodsmen, however extraordinary they might look.
Many human Woodsmen have mutated into skinny, silver-haired Elflike beings, but should never be mistaken for ELVES. Elves would object. They live in Woods up Trees too, and wish to remain distinct.
A big thank you to Nils, Julia, and Beth for their recommendations…
In true Nils style we have to firstly mention Legolas from Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien! Legolas was a prince who lived within Mirkwood forest, and most importantly he was a master archer. Being an elf, Legolas had keen eyesight, heightened hearing, and those factors alone helped him to have precise bowmanship. I mean when you think of Legolas you can’t help but picture that scene in The Return of the King movie where he slides down the Oliphaunt‘s trunk and shoots… everyone! Not to mention whilst also bantering with Gimli!
My second choice would be Camlin from The Faithful and the Fallen quartet by John Gwynne. At first Camlin, on the wrong side of thirty, was quite the ambiguous character. He begins in Malice living in Darkwood Forest as an outlaw and member of Braith’s brigand, hired by Evnis, one of our main villains throughout the series. Yet as the series continues Camlin evolves so much and becomes one of my most beloved characters. Just to add, I could also choose Bleda from Of Blood and Bone by John Gwynne, as through Bleda’s characterisation John Gwynne thoroughly explores the skills and techniques it takes to have excellent bowmanship, particularly when riding on horseback. Bleda’s battle scenes were extremely exciting.
My last choice is Jamshid from City of Brass by Shannon Chakraborty. One of the first scenes where we see Jamshid is when a riot in Daevabad breaks out between the Daeva’s and the shafit, and to save two of our main characters he rides in on an elephant and intervenes, shooting at the shafit. I remember immediately thinking how cool is that?! From them on Jamshid goes through a lot… one hell of a lot, and although I haven’t read the last book, Empire of Gold yet, I hope he finds happiness.
Beth: What is it with you and archers with elephants Nils??
As someone who enjoys archery myself, archers are some of my favourites…
It’s been harder to find archers I loved than I would have expected, but there are some I would happily recommend everyone to check out!
Ranger of the Titan Wilds by JDL Rosell is one I have just recently discovered. And I was fully hooked right from the start! The main character, Leiyn, is a ranger, and uses daggers and a sword as well as two bows to defend her home. Survival skills in the wild are as important as mastery of her weapons. The archery was so very well done, and I was very sad when I reached the end of the book.
Another Indie series with an amazing Archer character is Eternal Knight by Matt Heppe. Hadde also is a very skilled archer, and uses her abilities to protect and provide for her people. I loved the magic and mystery, and the sheer amount of outdoors adventures as well as the strong female main character.
Shields in Shadow by Andy Peloquin is a group of characters who form a special secret part of the military. They are meant to strike invisibly, and infiltrate enemies. And one of this ragged bunch of wildly different people is Skathi – a rather grumpy and rough archer. Her skills with a bow are amazing, and she has to rescue the rest of her troop more than once. This one is more about war and fighting than living in the woods, so different from the other two books I recommended.
The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan is the first book in a rather long series. It is suitable for middle grade / YA, but I happily confess I quite enjoyed them at over 30 years as well! The main character always wanted to become a knight when he was old enough, but his slight and lanky frame just took him down another road… And so he becomes apprenticed to a ranger and learns the use of bow and dagger instead! They are a fun and easy reads full of adventure and quite some shot arrows!
I’m going to start my list with an archer, but I am going to branch off into DJW’s broader coverage of “woodspeople” too.
First up, shout out to Sholla from Joe Abercrombie’s Age of Madness trilogy. She’s not a main character, or one who features particularly predominantly, but I loved her quiet wit, and the reverence she seemed to draw from the rest of the group. Not to mention, you have to respect someone who has a simple goal in life they’re trying to achieve despite the world around them falling to shit – in Sholla’s case, slicing the perfect transparently-thin sliver of cheese. And of course, she’s a crack shot.
‘I’ve got plenty o’ folk can fight,’ said Clover, ‘but just the one who can sneak up on a squirrel. Get to the back.’
Now, we can’t talk woodsmen and not mention Hannah Whitten’s Eamon, her eponymous wolf from For The Wolf. All is not as it seems in this fairy-tale-esque twisting story. Red is brought up to believe she’ll be sacrificed to a monstrous wolf in the forest, and instead what she finds is a quiet, withdrawn guardian of the forest, pushed to the very edge by the burdens he carries.
Code of the Communer, our SPFBO 6 semi-finalist by Kai Greenwood, was the story of a tribe of people forced from their migratory path through the forest by new and violent settlers. Caida is their spirit communer, and she leads them on a treacherous journey to their ancestral home, to face the monsters they ran from in a last bid of desperation. Caida and her tribe are true woods-folk, in tune to the seasons and their changes, to tracking through the forest and passing unnoticed.
Similarly, Motega is a character very similar to Caida in his abilities to track. You can find him in D. P. Woolliscroft’s Wildfire Cycle of books, starting with Kingshold. He’s also an archer, albeit a short-sighted one – and so relies heavily on his telepathically-bonded falcon for guidance (DWJ CHECK!).
He didn’t need one because he had Per, and a falcon’s eyes are sharper than a couple of pieces of glass. Motega’s eyes rolled into the back of his head as his mind melded into that of the bird’s. And he flew.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a Tough Travel entry from yours truly if I didn’t make an Anna Stephens reference. Anna’s two wolf tribes, although based in Watchtown, hunt the forests of western Rilpor for any attacks from the murderous Mireces. Ash is one such wolf, and he’s our precious cinnamon-roll. He’s a badass with a bow and arrow also, but I can’t ever see him as the lithe, silent, murderous huntsman of his job description.
Next month, to celebrate Halloween, we’ll be looking at our favourite GHOSTS.
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