Dark Sands is a fantasy novel by author E. R. Law, originally released by Ronin Sword Publishing in the summer of 2007 as Dark Sands: An Earth Realmers' Tale, or Dark Sands: A Novel. Law later retracted the earliest version of the novel, however, and re-invented it as a series of sorts, or a Dark Sands 'trilogy.' The three books in the series are known as Bad News from the Next World, The Lamphire Line, and Rise of the Appointed. Apart from just cutting the original work into three seperate pieces, these books tell a similar but dramatically altered (and in the mind of the author, improved) version of the story. Still, Law considers them mere chapters in an overall novel entitled Dark Sands.
Dark Sands tells the tale of several so-called 'Earth Realmers' who find themselves embroiled in a fantastic adventure in a mysterious otherworld known as the Mythrealm, where a corrupted half-elf known as Octwar seeks to avenge the death of his father, a former king among the elves known as Kilron, and simultaneously resurrect him from death so that together they might subjugate the various elves, dwarfs, and humans who dwell in the Mythrealm. To accomplish this goal, Octwar seeks out the so-called Lamphire line (aka, the blood lineage of Kilron's arch-nemesis, a man called Shantir, who escaped to the Earth Realm in the early 1800s).
Van Dines, a twenty something nobody from small town America and Employee of the Month at the local Value Mart department store, is unaware when he first meets a mysterious and beautiful young woman named Dawn Morgan that she is of that very bloodline. This is a fact that even she is unaware of. The two begin dating, but during an excursion to a secluded park known as the Reubensville Reserve, Dawn is abducted by a band of otherworldly creatures who appear and disappear almost without a trace. Van seeks the help of his best friend and fellow nobody Ashton Campbell, and together they return to the reserve to discover what happened to Dawn, only to find a dwindling portal amidst the forest. They enter it, and promptly find themselves deposited in the Mythrealm -- a place that is very, very similar to the worlds they read so much about in their youth (see J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings or Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain).
Van and Ash (as Ashton is most often called) soon discover the truth behind Dawn's abduction, and discover that they are her only hope of rescue. After all, Octwar plans to force her hand in marriage and sacrifice her to the ghost of his slain father, and usher in a season of darkness and despair the likes of which the Mythrealm has never before known. What follows is an epic quest frought with peril -- and lots and lots of self-depricating humor. Van and Ash are geeks, after all. Their observations as avid readers of fantasy fiction contribute most of the series' humor.
For example, when Van's character first learns of the existence of elves, he quickly asks, "So are we talking little guys with pointy hats who bake cookies in their magic trees, or big tall androgynous guys with bows and arrows prancing through the forest?" When the former seems the closest to the answer, he balks. "Everybody since Tolkien's been telling that same story. The man all but invented it! Surely you can do better than that, right?"
This quirky, revisionist sensibility permeates Dark Sands, allowing readers to see the Mythrealm through the eyes of their fanboy protagonists. Author E.R. Law describes the work as a "love letter to the fantasy genre" (see the Author's Note at the end of the 2007 version), therefore incorporating familiar but re-imagined elements so that Van and Ash can poke some fun at their adventure despite the ever-present danger that threatens them every step of the way.
In the author's own words... "If Dark Sands were a movie, I'd describe it as some weird three-way marriage between The Lord of the Rings, The Princess Bride, and The Breakfast Club."
Author E.R. Law opted in early 2009 to re-imagine Dark Sands as a trilogy for the sake of keeping costs low (so that potential readers could afford the book as well as to scale back the overhead costs of publishing the novel himself via Ronin Sword Publishing). He also claims it allowed him the time in an otherwise busy writing schedule to go back in and further develop the story one piece at a time, dramatically "improving" it and altering it as needed.
The first book in the series, Bad News from the Next World, details the mundane lives of would-be heroes Van and Ash and chronicles the first stage of their journey to rescue Dawn Morgan from the clutches of the monsters who hold her captive. The title of said volume was inspired by the title of Scottish rock band Simple Minds' 1995 album, Good News from the Next World. The novel was released in February of 2009.
The following chapters in the series, set to the titles of The Lamphire Line and Rise of the Appointed, have yet to be released, but are expected to follow in summer 2009 and early 2010.
The central theme of Dark Sands is the importance of fantasy and imagination in a modern world as a cure for adult apathy. This is represented in Dark Sands by the true nature of the Mythrealm, revealed in the third book in the series, Rise of the Appointed. A lack of belief by adults in all things fantastic and outside the realm of the mundane is slowly destroying the Mythrealm and creating powers like the one represented by the villain, Octwar. It could be argued as well that Dark Sands itself (a slowly expanding sea of endless dunes beneath an eternal, starless night) is the spread of that disbelief consuming the wonderous Mythrealm, much like The Nothing in the similarly themed The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.
Some less obvious themes deal with topics as diverse as love, loyalty, fatherhood, and even sex. Much is made of Van and Ash's loyalty to one another in times of crisis and Van's stubborn love for Dawn, but more subtle are Dark Sands elements of fatherhood, which depicts both the hero Van and his arch-nemesis Octwar as sons who have lost their fathers to death. Sexual themes are more subtle still, though author E.R. Law claims that Dark Sands is not unlike a Dave Matthews song -- "It's about sex even when it doesn't seem to be." After all, a sexual love affair is what shattered the peace of the Mythrealm, creating the forces of good in the guise of Dawn Morgan and her cousin Mia Lamphire, and the forces of evil in the shape of Octwar and his vengeful father Kilron. Law even challenges his readers to second-guess Van and Ash's motivations, for as Dawn and Mia are of elfish lineage and therefore bewitchingly beautiful, is it love that truly guides their actions or mere physical attraction?
Ronin Sword Publishing
Ronin Sword Publishing is the official publisher of Dark Sands. It is an invention of the author, E.R. Law, who self-published the series to maintain full creative control of the work. Ronin Sword Publishing was created specifically to publish Dark Sands and all related works, exclusively.
Law courted the large publishing firms with the work for well over a year, earning words of encouragement and a special note from an editor at Tor Books that praised the writing despite a refusal to publish the novel. Others described the manuscript as "too personal" and "not high concept enough," followed by suggestions on how to make the book more commercial. Even so, Law secured a small press called Capri Publishing that was enthusiastic about the project and planned to publish it in December of 2006. Unfortunately, the company closed its doors before then due to financial troubles.
Citing that he had never intended Dark Sands to be a commercial bestseller in the first place, Law opted to publish the novel himself under the banner of Ronin Sword. "This was something I did for myself, something I had to do," Law is quoted as saying. "Originally, I conceived of Dark Sands as something for me and my friends only. It acted as a venue for our own wish fulfilment as a couple teenage nerds. I mean, what could be better for guys like us? Visit a generic version of Middle-earth, play the hero, and get the girl. I mean, come on! Gradually, though, I took on this concept of becoming a professional writer when I got older, and Dark Sands was my rite of passage. I had to finish it to a point where I was satisfied with it, a point where it felt like something that was deeply personal and at times almost autobiographical, and then I'd see if anybody else wanted to read the thing. Hopefully they do. I mean, it'd be a shame if nobody cared after well over fifteen years of work, but that's a chance I'll take gladly. I care, and that's all that matters to me."
To maintain full creative control, Law eventually decided to publish the novel himself. This fact is also what allowed him to re-invent Dark Sands as a new and improved series.
Dark Sands is a fantasy novel in the tradition of Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson, the Spearwielder's Tales by R.A. Salvatore, and other various wish fulfilment yarns whereupon the protagonists are normal, everyday people from "the real world" who find themselves at the epicenter of a fantasy adventure in some distant world inspired by myths, legends, and/or the works of the genre's most prolific authors. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain is one of the earliest examples of this.
E.R. Law is the pen name of Evan Law, who also co-wrote the feature film Hero Wanted (2008). Law has since disavowed the pen name, and cites it as Dark Sands exclusive.