[Post updated with another image.]
As part of the process of compiling House of Steel, the first Honorverse Companion, BuNine compared existing Honoverse artwork with the text descriptions in the books. During that comparison, Tom Pope, Scott Bell, and myself noticed a problem with the depictions of Grayson swords. They look good, but they simply don’t match the text evidence.
The Grayson swords as presented in the artwork—not only the book covers, but collateral art such as navy crests and the like—are European-style straight blades, of varying lengths. The Grayson swords in the books, on the other hand, are katanas. Here’s a description of a typical Grayson sword from chapter six of Flag in Exile:
King’s College had sent along a description of the traditional swords of ancient Japan, and the Grayson weapon bore a pronounced resemblance to the katana, the longer of the two swords which had identified the samurai. It was a bit longer—about the same length as something the records called a tachi—with a more “Western-style” guard and a spine that was sharpened for a third of its length, which the katana’s hadn’t been, yet its ancestry was evident.
Tom decided this was worth asking David about, so he asked me to put together a packet detailing the problems with the swords as depicted (including comparisons of Japanese and western swords and sword-making), and possible solutions. As part of this I used both my own existing references (I am already a blade fanatic), plus some from Scott and the web. This packet then went to David.
You’ll note that we put together the packet before Tom ever mentioned to David our misgivings about the sword designs. This is standard for the way we interact with David, for two reasons. First, David’s schedule is insane, and hence “David time” is a precious resource, not to be squandered. Presenting him all the info up front generally makes it easier for him. Second, David often works through the night, so email is usually the best way to communicate with him for something like this. As a result of these two factors, it’s generally best to provide David with a complete packet describing the problem and the possible solutions; if we’re lucky, we’ve anticipated his questions and he can say (for instance) “I like option C—run with it!”
In this case, we didn’t have to convince David of the inconsistency. He quickly responded that he knew the illustrations were wrong, and asked us to redesign it. This started a rather fast and yet in-depth redesign of what Tom Pope has described as “the platonic ideal of a Grayson katana,” which would lay down the template for the depiction of every other Steadholder blade.
To start, Tom did a rough sketch of several ideas he and David discussed. Those sketches and my own research were used to create a very rough 3D ‘blank’ showing both the general shape and form of the blade. To this Lightwave 3D model I added features from David’s descriptions, such as the double edge not usually found on historical katanas.
Once we settled on the general form and shape, the generic model was taken in to Zbrush and given a high detail pass, adding ornamentation and other details. This turned the rough model into something which could be used by other artists for final images, as well as allowing us to do renders of how the blade itself would look if produced in real life.
The images displayed below were shown first to Tom and other BuNine personnel, then handed to David for review. After a couple of minor changes (e.g, thickening the more European-style cross guard), David passed off on the blade after two revisions and a total of just over 5 days of work.