The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

It’s tricky to know just how to review The Blade Itself, because, I must confess, I didn’t exactly come to it expecting just a novel. I came to it expecting what’s widely considered a foundational text for the (relatively) new subgenre of Grimdark. I have read the occasional book that might be considered to be within that area (like Hurley’s God’s War, though that’s science fantasy rather than straight fantasy), but the big names of the movement – Abercrombie, Lynch, Lawrence and company – I’ve never gotten around to. So in reading this… yes, of course I wanted an enjoyable experience, and to see what this popular author was like, but I also wanted to see what grimdark was really like in the flesh, outside of the polemica and caricature for and against. What is grimdark? What makes it different from non-grimdark?

And, to be honest, I come away a little puzzled.

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Tough Travelling: Assassins

Thought I’d have another (typically belated) go at Tough Travelling. This week, we’re dealing with Assassins:

Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).

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Øynduyska – some examples (1)

I’ve finished for now with Øynduyska, at least in the sense of posting a sketch on this blog. But I’m still translating some things and fiddling with some details, so I thought I’d share four very small (one line) translations, with explanations.

Yes, a couple of things are slightly different from in the foregoing discussion, and represent minor changes I’ve made since then. [or mistakes, of course…]

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Øynduyska – VI (Verb Morphology)

The continuing adventures of Øynduyska!



Øynduyska’s verbs may be divided into a number of distinct classes, which in turn may be grouped into two large categories: strong and weak. There are in addition a small number of irregular verbs, and the modal verbs, which are defective.

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Øynduyska – II (Phonology/Orthography 1)

The continuing adventures of  Øynduyska. As always, feedback welcome!


Fonologi ay Ortografi


  Stops Affricates Fricatives Approximants Taps Nasals
Bilabial /p/ p

/b/ b

        /m/ m
Labiodental     /f/ f fh

/v/ v bh f

Dental     /þ/ th t

/ð/ ð d

Alveolar /t/ t

/d/ d

  /s/ s

/z/ s

/l/ l /ɹ/ r /n/ n
Anterior Post-Alveolar   /tɕ/ tch /ʃ/ sh s
/ʒ/ s
Posterior Post-Alveolar     /ɕ/ kj      
Palatal       /j/ y j    
Velar /k/ c k

/g/ g

  /x/ ch /w/ w    
Glottal     /h/ h      


The consonant inventory is largely unremarkable and self-explanatory, although it is worth noting that the labiodental fricatives often pronounced as labial fricatives when adjacent to rounded vowels. The most unusual phonemes are those listed here as “dental fricatives”, which may vary between interdental fricatives and dental stops – in general, they are fricatives intervocalically, post-nasally and finally, but they are often stops initially or following another consonant. The stop realisation is particularly common for the voiceless phoneme.

Regarding the orthography, there are a number of ambiguities; in particular, the grapheme s may stand for any of four fricatives: while generally indicating an alveolar, it indicates a postalveolar following u, w, eo, io, or sometimes (but not always) following ø, y or a; it indicates a voiced fricative when initial, when intervocalic, or when following a nasal, or when preceding a voiced consonant, but otherwise indicates a voiceless consonant. The voiced and voiceless alveolar fricatives are not otherwise distinguished in writing, though the distinction is only very rarely distinctive. The same is true of the postalveolar, except that the voiceless postalveolar may also be indicated by means of the digraph sh. So:

sitta /zɪtə/ “to sit”
gressa /gresə/ “to eat lightly; to graze”
más /mas/ “moss”
huss /hʊʃ/ “house”
fleos /fleʃ/ “fleece; rind; mould”
yøsa /jøːʒə/ “to vomit”
másh /maʃ/ “clapshot; colcannon”
shanka /ʃæŋkə/ “leg”


The “dental fricatives” may be indicated by th and ð, but may also be indicated simply by t and d when preceding a u, w, y, o or ó, or when morpheme-final following the same letters – or, sometimes but not always, following a, ø or y. Thus:

cweða /kweːðə/ “to declare”
beseod ech /bəzeɞð ex/ “I boil (sth.)”
bątha /bɑːþə/ “to beat”
besleot ech /bəzleɞþ ex/ “I close (sth.)”
duylom /ðʊɪlɞm/ “creator”


The velar stop /k/ may be indicated with either c or k; c is found as the first element of clusters within a root, and, within a morpheme, before any vowels other than i, í, or e; k is found morpheme-finally, as the final element of clusters, and before the vowels i, í and e. So:

cweða /kweːðə/ “to declare”
cnafa /knæːvə/ “child; boy; youth”
cutta /kʊtə/ “bodice; jacket”
kerm /kɛrəm/ “wail; shriek; lament”
yðank /ɪðænk/ “thought”
busk /bʊʃk/ “bush”


Regarding the labiodentals: in initial or final position, or adjacent to a voiceless stop or a fricative, f generally indicates /f/, but in intervocalic position f indicates /v/. Morpheme-final /v/ is typically shown by bh, while initial /v/ is shown by v; v is also found in many loanwords. Intervocalic /f/ may be shown by vh. Thus:

foto /foːtoː/ “photograph”
far? /fær/ “where?”
hröf /hrəf/ “stomach; fortitude”
vilsfin /vɪlsfɪn/ “wild boar”
wǫlf /wʌlf/ “wolf”
wylfer /wylvər/ “wolves”
cnafa /knæːvə/ “child; boy; youth”
cøbh /kev/ “jaw”
cøbhs /køːvz/ “of the jaw”
advocat /ædvɞkət/ “attorney”
sevha /seːfa/ “to see”


The palatal glide /j/ is shown with y when morpheme-initial or following a vowel, but with j when following a consonant within a morpheme. So:

yøsa /jøːʒə/ “to vomit”
bjóding /bjɔːðəŋg/ “social invitation”


A further complication of orthography is the practice of writing orthographic ‘geminates’ to indicate preceding short vowels. Sometimes, the ‘geminate’ is not merely a duplication of the letter or grapheme. In any case, other than across morpheme boundaries in compounds, ‘geminates’ do not indicate a phonetic doubling of the consonant, but merely a change in the preceding vowel.

The fricative geminates ff and ss only ever indicate voiceles consonants; voiced /v/ may be written in geminate form as bhf, but there is no geminate form available for /z/. The geminate form of ð is ðh.

The geminate form of c/k is written as ck, when morpheme-internal, but as kk when the gemination results from the addition of a suffix. The geminate form of kj is kkj.

The geminate forms of th and ch are tth and cch.

The polygraphs sh and tch are regarded as automatically ‘geminate’, in the sense of shortening preceding vowels.

In this way:

máshr /maʃr/ “colcannons”
flycker /flʏkər/ “flocks; groups”
ąka /ɑːkə/ “to make bigger”
akkar /ækar/ “increaser”
mikkjel /mɪɕəl/ “big”
yøbha /yøːvə/ “to give”
yøbhfað wi /yevað wi/ “we give”


Next Up: Phonology and Orthography 2: Vowels!
Nu ta vylga: Fonologi ay Ortografi 2: Vocala

Øynduyska – I (intro/context)

It’s been a while since I’ve put up any conlanging here (I did do a huge tranche of stuff on Rawàng Ata but never got around to posting most of it). So, here, enjoy (if you can!) a brief sketch of a Germanic language from the North Atlantic. I’ll post it in sections to buoy your suspense (and because I haven’t finished it yet – still got a few more syntax sections to wade through). Any questions or comments gratefully received!

I’ll start with a brief explanation of what the language is…



Øynduyska is a minor Germanic language spoken by somewhat under 200,000 people on the Wentharian Islands (located northwest of Ireland and southwest of Iceland and the Faroes), by small numbers of expatriates around the world (with particular concentrations in the UK, US, Canada, Norway, and Argentina; there is a very small multigenerational community surviving in western Canada, while other speakers abroad are mostly first- or second-generation immigrants). There are also several tens of thousands of second-language speakers in the Islands.

Øynduyska belongs to the Northwest Germanic subfamily. Early philologists generally assumed it to be an Ingvaeonic, or even specifically Anglo-Frisian language, as it shares some prominent features with English and Frisian. However, modern linguists believe that these are parallel evolutions, probably suggesting extensive early contact and sprachbund effects; it is not even clear whether Øynduyska can accurately be called a West Germanic language, thanks to its delayed rhotacisation (a feature shared with North Germanic but not with West Germanic). However, as the language is in other regards close to West Germanic, and shares few early developments with North Germanic, the general tendency appears to be to overlook this difference and to consider it a somewhat ‘anomalous’ West Germanic language.

Considerable perplexity surrounds the early history of the language, and in particular how the language could have arrived in such a remote location. It is possible that the ancestors of the modern Øynduyar (English: ‘Onthoyers’ or ‘Wenthers’) may have participated in the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England, crossed the island rapidly, and then spread to the west via the Hebrides. It seems more likely, however, that they reached their current location either following a coastal path along the east coast of Britain, and thence via the Hebrides, or else following a coastal path along the west coast of Norway, prior to Norse settlement there, and then travelling to the west via the Faroes. The latter suggestion has always been more politically popular in the Islands, but the former would seem more probable, given the shorter distances required to be travelled, and the absence of any clear connexion between the Øynduyar and the Faroes.

In any event, the Islands were subsequently subjugated under Norse (and later variously Danish and Norwegian) rule, from the 9th century through to the 20th, and this contact has had a considerable effect on the superficial appearance of the language, and a more subtle influence upon other aspects of the tongue.


In reality, of course, there is no Øynduyska, nor any Wentharian Islands (or at least, in our world there is only one such island, and it’s very, very small).

I’ve toyed on and off, over the years, with some sort of a sister or cousin to English, retaining a more archaic feel – a common enough conceit. Those ideas never really went anywhere, however, until I saw and borrowed the idea of placing some more dry land on our Rockall Plateau. What would the inhabitants of such islands speak? Well, realistically they’d speak a sister to Icelandic and to Faroese, but that didn’t interest me much, so instead… Øynduyska. Not actually a descendent of Old English, but similarities in vocabulary and (over-enthusiastic!) participation in the Ingvaeonic Nasal Spirant Law hopefully make it feel strangely familiar to English speakers. It retains some features suggestive of Old English – it has not undergone Modern English’s Great Vowel Shift, for instance, and continues to use the distinctive ‘eo’ digraph lost in Modern English – while following Modern English in some other respects (it has eliminated or reduced many of its unstressed vowels, for instance, and dramatically simplified its morphology). At the same time, for both aesthetic and historical reasons, I wanted to give the language a slightly ‘Northern’ feel, a touch of cold crispness that seemed to suit both its windswept locale and its long association with the Nordic nations. This is most obvious in the orthography, with its inclusion of such letters as ø and ð, and in a number of Norse loanwords.

Next Up: Phonology and Orthography!
Nu ta vylga: Fonologi ay Ortografi!

The Skylark of Space, by E.E. (“Doc”) Smith

It’s Vintage Science Fiction Month [well it was, back when I started this review…] And what could be more vintage than The Skylark of Space?

This is it. This is novel Asimov called the first classic of science fiction; that Pohl ranked as the single most influential SF novel not by Wells or Verne. First written – or at least begun – almost exactly a century ago, how does The First Space Opera hold up today?

…well, I’m honestly not entirely sure how to answer that question.

I could probably just leave the review at that picture…

But first things first. What is it?

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