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Gail Z. Martin on Monsters and Mayhem

Please welcome Gail Z. Martin to The Qwillery! Scourge, the first Darkhurst novel, will be published on July 11th by Solaris.

Gail Z. Martin on Monsters and Mayhem

Monsters and Mayhem

By Gail Z. Martin

Why should urban fantasy have all the fun?

I love monsters. When I was a kid, I remember sitting in my living room in the dark with a bowl of popcorn, scaring myself silly watching black and white reruns of Them, It Came From Outer Space, and all the Godzilla movies. I loved the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, the Werewolf and all the famous movie monsters, and I watched every monster-oriented TV show I could find.

I’ve always loved folktales, myths and stories about terrifying beasts and cryptids. The Jersey Devil. The Mothman. Yeti and Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster, black dogs and banshees and redcaps and all manner of monsters fascinate me. Whether they’re a created myth, like Slenderman, or something more organic, like tommyknockers, monsters capture my imagination.

My library is full of books about monsters. Yes, I use the books for research, but reading them is just plain fun. And as I read, I can’t help thinking about the right story for the right creature—how to make it all come together.

So when the chance to do a new series came up, it occurred to me that while I’d read a lot of urban fantasy books with monsters, I couldn’t remember many (if any) epic fantasy stories where the monsters were a main focus, not an incidental obstacle. The Darkhurst series was born (the working title was Monster Slayers of Darkhurst—I do agree that Scourge is better).

Why monsters? Because monsters are cool.

With Scourge, the monsters we encounter in the first book are beast-type monsters. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a method to the madness of why these types of monsters show up and not others. In the sequel, which I’m currently writing, we get to see a bigger variety of monsters and some that are more sentient and much more dangerous.

In Scourge, the monsters themselves aren’t evil, although their masters may be. The monsters are dangerous and cause a lot of death and harm, but they are creatures of magic and instinct, not true malice (though the same can’t be said for their masters). There’s a time and place for sentient, intentionally malicious monsters, and we’ll see more of that as the series progresses.

I liked playing with the concept of what makes a monster. In my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, Jonmarc Vahanian runs afoul of magicked monsters that kill his family, destroy his village and set him on the path to become a mercenary and smuggler. Monsters created and controlled by magic (and the monstrous people who do so) factor into several plot lines in that series.

In my Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series, haunted and cursed objects are often the conduit that opens a gateway for supernatural monsters of many kinds to enter our world. And in the Iron & Blood Steampunk series (co-written with my husband, Larry N. Martin), monsters take on many forms, from clockwork zombies to vengeful ghosts to an ancient evil woken from the depths of the earth.

In the Ascendant Kingdoms series, one of the antagonists had the magical ability to force regular wild animals to his will for a limited period of time and turn them into killing machines. It created a terrifying scenario, because the ensorcelled animals had no desire of their own to do harm, but could not control themselves, and those against whom they were turned had no choice except to defend themselves.

The monsters in Scourge aren’t quite as sympathetic, but they are affected by magic that is not their own and over which they have no control. Their masters make use of them only as weapons, guaranteeing an eventual, brutal death. So to that end, they’re not ‘monstrous’ in their intent, just thrust into a place they don’t belong doing what instinct demands and coming to a bad end because of it.

Much as I’m a fan of things that go bump in the night, I’m hard pressed to find any monsters more terrifying than mankind. Our ability to hurt other people is seemingly limitless in its depravity, and much more frightening because the ‘monsters’ look just like us. And Scourge has its share of humans who deserve the title of ‘monster’ in addition to the magicked beasts. If you love monsters as much as I do, this is the series for you!

A Darkhurst Novel 1
Solaris, July 11, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Gail Z. Martin on Monsters and Mayhem
Epic new fantasy from the bestselling author of The Summoner. In a city beset by monsters, three brothers must find out who is controlling the abominations.

The city-state of Ravenwood is wealthy, powerful, and corrupt. Merchant Princes and Guild Masters wager fortunes to outmaneuver League rivals for the king’s favor and advantageous trading terms. Lord Mayor Ellor Machison wields assassins, blood witches, and forbidden magic to assure that his powerful patrons get what they want, no matter the cost.

Corran, Rigan, and Kell Valmonde are Guild Undertakers, left to run their family’s business when guards murdered their father and monsters killed their mother. Their grave magic enables them to help souls pass to the After and banish vengeful spirits. Rigan’s magic is unusually strong and enables him to hear the confessions of the dead, the secrets that would otherwise be taken to the grave.

When the toll exacted by monsters and brutal guards hits close to home and ghosts expose the hidden sins of powerful men, Corran, Rigan and Kell become targets in a deadly game and face a choice: obey the Guild, or fight back and risk everything.

An Excerpt from Scourge: A Novel of Darkhurst
By Gail Z. Martin
Chapter One

A HEAVY IRON candleholder slammed against the wall, just missing Corran Valmonde’s head.
     “Son of a bitch!”
     “Try not to make her mad, Corran.”
     Rigan Valmonde knelt on the worn floor, drawing a sigil in charcoal, moving as quickly as he dared. Not quickly enough; a piece of firewood spun from the hearth and flew across the room, slamming him in the shoulder hard enough to make him grunt in pain.
     “Keep her off me!” he snapped, repairing the smudge in the soot line. Sloppy symbols meant sloppy magic, and that could get someone killed.
     “I would if I could see her.” Corran stepped away from the wall, raising his iron sword, putting himself between the fireplace and his brother. His breath misted in the unnaturally cold room and moisture condensed on the wavy glass of the only window.
     “Watch where you step.” Rigan worked on the second sigil, widdershins from the soot marking, this one daubed in ochre. “I don’t want to have to do this again.”
     A small ceramic bowl careened from the mantle, and, for an instant, Rigan glimpsed a young woman in a blood-soaked dress, one hand clutching her heavily pregnant belly. The other hand slipped right through the bowl, even as the dish hurtled at Rigan’s head. Rigan dove to one side and the bowl smashed against the opposite wall. At the same time, Corran’s sword slashed down through the specter. A howl of rage filled the air as the ghost dissipated.
     You have no right to be in my home. The dead woman’s voice echoed in Rigan’s mind.
     Get out of my head.
     You are a confessor. Hear me!
     Not while you’re trying to kill my brother.
     “You’d better hurry.” Corran slowly turned, watching for the ghost.
     “I can’t rush the ritual.” Rigan tried to shut out the ghost’s voice, focusing on the complex chalk sigil. He reached into a pouch and drew a thin curved line of salt, aconite, and powdered amanita, connecting the first sigil to the second, and the second to the third and fourth, working his way to drawing a complete warded circle.
     The ghost materialized without warning on the other side of the line, thrusting a thin arm toward Rigan, her long fingers crabbed into claws, old blood beneath her torn nails. She opened a gash on Rigan’s cheek as he stumbled backward, grabbed a handful of the salt mixture and threw it. The apparition vanished with a wail.
     “Corran!” Rigan’s warning came a breath too late as the ghost appeared right behind his brother, and took a swipe with her sharp, filthy nails, clawing Corran’s left shoulder.
     He wronged me. He let me die, let my baby die— The voice shrieked in Rigan’s mind.
     “Draw the damn signs!” Corran yelled. “I’ll handle her.” He wheeled, and before the blood- smeared ghost could strike again, the tip of his iron blade caught her in the chest. Her image dissipated like smoke, with a shriek that echoed from the walls.
     Avenge me.
     Sorry, lady, Rigan thought as he reached for a pot of pigment. I’m stuck listening to dead people’s dirty little secrets and last regrets, but I just bury people. Take your complaints up with the gods.
     “Last one.” Rigan marked the rune in blue woad. The condensation on the window turned to frost, and he shivered. The ghost flickered, insubstantial but still identifiable as the young woman who had died bringing her stillborn child into the world. Her blood still stained the floor in the center of the warded circle and held her to this world as surely as her grief.
     Wind whipped through the room, and would have scattered the salt and aconite line if Rigan had not daubed the mixture onto the floor in paste. Fragments of the broken bowl scythed through the air. The iron candle holder sailed across the room; Corran dodged it again, and a shard caught the side of his brother’s head, opening a cut on Rigan’s scalp, sending a warm rush of blood down the side of his face.
     The ghost raged on, her anger and grief whipping the air into a whirlwind. I will not leave without justice for myself and my son.
     You don’t really have a choice about it, Rigan replied silently and stepped across the warding, careful not to smudge the lines, pulling an iron knife from his belt. He nodded to Corran and together their voices rose as they chanted the burial rite, harmonizing out of long practice, the words of the Old Language as familiar as their own names.
     The ghostly woman’s image flickered again, solid enough now that Rigan could see the streaks of blood on her pale arms and make out the pattern of her dress. She appeared right next to him, close enough that his shoulder bumped against her chest, and her mouth brushed his ear.
     ’Twas not nature that killed me. My faithless husband let us bleed because he thought the child was not his own.
     The ghost vanished, compelled to reappear in the center of the circle, standing on the blood-stained floor. Rigan extended his trembling right hand and called to the magic, drawing on the old, familiar currents of power. The circle and runes flared with light. The sigils burned in red, white, blue, and black, with the salt-aconite lines a golden glow between them.
     Corran and Rigan’s voices rose as the glow grew steadily brighter, and the ghost raged all the harder against the power that held her, thinning the line between this world and the next, opening a door and forcing her through it.
     One heartbeat she was present; in the next she was gone, though her screams continued to echo.
     Rigan and Corran kept on chanting, finishing the rite as the circle’s glow faded and the sigils dulled to mere pigment once more. Rigan lowered his palm and dispelled the magic, then blew out a deep breath.
     “That was not supposed to happen.” Corran’s scowl deepened as he looked around the room, taking in the shattered bowl and the dented candle holder. He flinched, noticing Rigan’s wounds now that the immediate danger had passed.
     “You’re hurt.”
     Rigan shrugged. “Not as bad as you are.” He wiped blood from his face with his sleeve, then bent to gather the ritual materials.
     “She confessed to you?” Corran bent to help his brother, wincing at the movement.
     “Yeah. And she had her reasons,” Rigan replied. He looked at Corran, frowning at the blood that soaked his shirt. “We’ll need to wash and bind your wounds when we get back to the shop.”
     “Let’s get out of here.”
     They packed up their gear, but Corran did not sheath his iron sword until they were ready to step outside. A small crowd had gathered, no doubt drawn by the shrieks and thuds and the flares of light through the cracked, dirty window.
     “Nothing to see here, folks,” Corran said, exhaustion clear in his voice. “We’re just the undertakers.”
     Once they were convinced the excitement was over, the onlookers dispersed, leaving one man standing to the side. He looked up anxiously as Rigan and Corran approached him.
     “Is it done? Is she gone?” For an instant, eagerness shone too clearly in his eyes. Then his posture shifted, shoulders hunching, gaze dropping, and mask slipped back into place. “I mean, is she at rest? After all she’s been through?”
     Before Corran could answer, Rigan grabbed the man by the collar, pulled him around the corner into an alley and threw him up against the wall. “You can stop the grieving widower act,” he growled. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Corran standing guard at the mouth of the alley, gripping his sword.
     “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” The denial did not reach the man’s eyes.
     “You let her bleed out, you let the baby die, because you didn’t think the child was yours.” Rigan’s voice was rough as gravel, pitched low so that only the trembling man could hear him.
     “She betrayed me—”
     “No.” The word brought the man up short. “No, if she had been lying, her spirit wouldn’t have been trapped here.” Rigan slammed the widower against the wall again to get his attention.
     “Rigan—” Corran cautioned.
     “Lying spirits don’t get trapped.” Rigan had a tight grip on the man’s shirt, enough that he could feel his body trembling. “Your wife. Your baby. Your fault.” He stepped back and let the man down, then threw him aside to land on the cobblestones.
     “The dead are at peace. You’ve got the rest of your life to live with what you did.” With that, he turned on his heel and walked away, as the man choked back a sob.
     Corran sheathed his sword. “I really wish you’d stop beating up paying customers,” he grumbled as they turned to walk back to the shop.
     “Wish I could. Don’t know how to stop being confessor to the dead, not sure what else to do once I know the dirt,” Rigan replied, an edge of pain and bitterness in his voice.
     “So the husband brought us in to clean up his mess?” Corran winced as he walked; the gashes on his arm and back had to be throbbing.
     “I like it better when the ghosts confess something like where they buried their money,” Corran replied.
     “So do I.”
     The sign over the front of the shop read Valmonde Undertakers. Around back, in the alley, the sign over the door just said Bodies. Corran led the way, dropping the small rucksack containing their gear just inside the entrance, and cursed under his breath as the strap raked across raw shoulders.
     “Sit down,” Rigan said, nodding at an unoccupied mortuary table. He tied his brown hair into a queue before washing his hands in a bucket of fresh water drawn from the pump. “Let me have a look at those wounds.”
     Footsteps descended the stairs from the small apartment above.
     “You’re back? How bad was it?” Kell, the youngest of the Valmonde brothers, stopped halfway down the stairs. He had Corran’s coloring, taking after their father, with dark blond hair that curled when it grew long. Rigan’s brown hair favored their mother. All three brothers’ blue eyes were the same shade, making the resemblance impossible to overlook.
     “Shit.” Kell jumped the last several steps as he saw his brothers’ injuries. He grabbed a bucket of water and scanned a row of powders and elixirs, grabbing bottles and measuring out with a practiced eye and long experience. “I thought you said it was just a banishing.”
     “It was supposed to be ‘just’ a banishing,” Rigan said as Corran stripped off his bloody shirt. “But it didn’t go entirely to plan.” He soaked a clean cloth in the bucket Kell held and wrung it out.
     “A murder, not a natural death,” Corran said, and his breath hitched as Rigan daubed his wounds. “Another ghost with more power than it should have had.”
     Rigan saw Kell appraising Corran’s wounds, glancing at the gashes on Rigan’s face and hairline.
     “Mine aren’t as bad,” Rigan said.
     “When you’re done with Corran, I’ll take care of them,” Kell said. “So I’m guessing Mama’s magic kicked in again, if you knew about the murder?”
     “Yeah,” Rigan replied in a flat voice.
     Undertaking, like all the trades in Ravenwood, was a hereditary profession. That it came with its own magic held no surprise; all the trades did. The power and the profession were passed down from one generation to the next. Undertakers could ease a spirit’s transition to the realm beyond, nudge a lost soul onward, or release one held back by unfinished business. Sigils, grave markings, corpse paints, and ritual chants were all part of the job. But none of the other undertakers that Rigan knew had a mama who was part Wanderer. Of the three Valmonde brothers, only Rigan had inherited her ability to hear the confessions of the dead, something not even the temple priests could do. His mother had called it a gift. Most of the time, Rigan regarded it as a burden, sometimes a curse. Usually, it just made things more complicated than they needed to be.
     “Hold still,” Rigan chided as Corran winced. “Ghost wounds draw taint.” He wiped away the blood, cleaned the cuts, and then applied ointment from the jar Kell handed him. All three of them knew the routine; they had done this kind of thing far too many times.
     “There,” he said, binding up Corran’s arm and shoulder with strips of gauze torn from a clean linen shroud. “That should do it.”
     Corran slid off the table to make room for Rigan. While Kell dealt with his brother’s wounds, Corran went to pour them each a whiskey.
     “That’s the second time this month we’ve had a spirit go from angry to dangerous,” Corran said, returning with their drinks. He pushed a glass into Rigan’s hand, and set one aside for Kell, who was busy wiping the blood from his brother’s face.
     “I’d love to know why.” Rigan tried not to wince as Kell probed his wounds. The deep gash where the pottery shard had sliced his hairline bled more freely than the cut on his cheek. Kell swore under his breath as he tried to staunch the bleeding.
     “It’s happening all over Ravenwood, and no one in the Guild seems to know a damn thing about why or what to do about it,” Corran said, knocking his drink back in one shot. “Old Daniels said he’d heard his father talk about the same sort of thing, but that was fifty years ago. So why did the ghosts stop being dangerous then, and what made them start being dangerous now?”
     Rigan started to shake his head, but stopped at a glare from Kell, who said, “Hold still.”
     He let out a long breath and complied, but his mind raced. Until the last few months, banishings were routine. Violence and tragedy sometimes produced ghosts, but in all the years since Rigan and Corran had been undertakers—first helping their father and uncles and then running the business since the older men had passed away—banishings were usually uneventful.
     Make the marks, sing the chant, the ghost goes on and we go home. So what’s changed?
     “I’m sick of being handed my ass by things that aren’t even solid,” Rigan grumbled. “If this keeps up, we’ll need to charge more.”
     Corran snorted. “Good luck convincing Guild Master Orlo to raise the rates.”
     Rigan’s eyes narrowed. “Guild Master Orlo can dodge flying candlesticks and broken pottery. See how he likes it.”
     “Once you’ve finished grumbling we’ve got four new bodies to attend to,” Kell said. “One’s a Guild burial and the others are worth a few silvers a piece.” Rigan did not doubt that Kell had negotiated the best fees possible, he always did.
     “Nice,” Rigan replied, and for the first time noticed that there were corpses on the other tables in the workshop, covered with sheets. “We can probably have these ready to take to the cemetery in the morning.”
     “One of them was killed by a guard,” Kell said, turning his back and keeping his voice carefully neutral.
     “Do you know why?” Corran tensed.
     “His wife said he protested when the guard doubled the ‘protection’ fee. Guess the guard felt he needed to be taught a lesson.” Bribes were part of everyday life in Ravenwood, and residents generally went along with the hated extortion. Guilds promised to shield their members from the guards’ worst abuses, but in reality, the Guild Masters only intervened in the most extreme cases, fearful of drawing the Lord Mayor’s ire. At least, that had been the excuse when Corran sought justice from the Undertakers’ Guild for their father’s murder, a fatal beating on flimsy charges.
Rigan suspected the guards had killed their father because the neighborhood looked up to him, and if he’d decided to speak out in opposition, others might have followed. Even with the passing years, the grief remained sharp, the injustice bitter.
     Kell went to wash his hands in a bucket by the door. “Trent came by while you and Corran were out. There’s been another attack, three dead. He wants you to go have a look and take care of the bodies.”
     Rigan and Corran exchanged a glance. “What kind of attack?”
     Kell sighed. “What kind do you think? Creatures.” He hesitated. “I got the feeling from Trent this was worse than usual.”
     “Did Trent say what kind of creatures?” Corran asked, and Rigan picked up on an edge to his brother’s voice.
     Kell nodded. “Ghouls.”
     Corran swore under his breath and looked away, pushing back old memories. “All right,” he said, not quite managing to hide a shudder. “Let’s go get the bodies before it gets any later. We’re going to have our hands full tonight.”
     “Kell and I can go, if you want to start on the ones here,” Rigan offered.
     Corran shook his head. “No. I’m not much use as an undertaker if I can’t go get the corpses no matter how they came to an end,” Corran said.
     Rigan heard the undercurrent in his tone. Kell glanced at Rigan, who gave a barely perceptible nod, warning Kell to say nothing. Corran’s dealing with the memories the best way he knows how, Rigan thought. I just wish there weren’t so many reminders.
     “I’ll prepare the wash and the pigments, and get the shrouds ready,” Kell said. “I’ll have these folks ready for your part of the ritual by the time you get back.” He gestured to the bodies already laid out. “Might have to park the new ones in the cart for a bit and switch out—tables are scarce.”
     Corran grimaced. “That’ll help.” He turned to Rigan. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”
     Kell gave them the directions Trent had provided. Corran took up the long poles of the undertaker’s cart, which clattered behind him as they walked. Rigan knew better than to talk to his brother when he was in this kind of mood. At best he could be present, keep Corran from having to deal with the ghouls’ victims alone, and sit up with him afterward.
     It’s only been three months since he buried Jora, since we almost had to bury him. The memory’s raw, although he won’t mention it. But Kell and I both hear what he shouts in his sleep. He’s still fighting them in his dreams, and still losing.
     Rigan’s memories of that night were bad enough—Trent stumbling to the back door of the shop, carrying Corran, bloody and unconscious; Corran’s too-still body on one of the mortuary tables; Kell praying to Doharmu and any god who would listen to stave off death; Trent, covered in Corran’s blood, telling them how he had found their brother and Jora out in the tavern barn, the ghoul that attacked them already feasting on Jora’s fresh corpse.
     Rigan never did understand why Trent had gone to the barn that night, or how he managed to fight off the ghoul. Corran and Jora, no doubt, had slipped away for a tryst, expecting the barn to be safe and private. Corran said little of the attack, and Rigan hoped his brother truly did not remember all the details.
     “We’re here.” Corran’s rough voice and expressionless face revealed more than any words.
     Ross, the farrier, met them at the door. “I’m sorry to have to call you out,” he said.
     “It’s our job,” Corran replied. “I’m just sorry the godsdamned ghouls are back.”
     “Not for long,” Ross said under his breath. A glance passed between Corran and Ross. Rigan filed it away to ask Corran about later.
     The stench hit Rigan as soon as they entered the barn. Two horses lay gutted in their stalls and partially dismembered. Blood spattered the wooden walls and soaked the sawdust. Flies swarmed on what the ghouls had left behind.
     “They’re over here,” Ross said. The bodies of two men and a woman had been tossed aside like discarded bones at a feast. Rigan swallowed down bile. Corran paled, his jaw working as he ground his teeth.
     Rigan and Corran knew better than most what remained of a corpse once a ghoul had finished with it. Belly torn open to get to the soft organs; ribs split wide to access the heart. How much of the flesh remained depended on the ghoul’s hunger and whether or not it feasted undisturbed. Given the state these bodies were in—their faces were the only parts left untouched—the ghouls had taken their time. Rigan closed his eyes and took a deep breath, willing himself not to retch.
     “What about the creatures?” Corran asked.
     “Must have fled when they heard us coming,” Ross said. “We were making plenty of noise.” Ross handed them each a shovel, and took one up himself. “There’s not much left, and what’s there is… loose.”
     “Who were they?” Rigan asked, not sure Corran felt up to asking questions.
     Ross swallowed hard. “One of the men was my cousin, Tad. The other two were customers. They brought in the two horses late in the day, and my cousin said he’d handle it.”
     Rigan heard the guilt in Ross’s tone.
     “Guild honors?” Corran asked, finding his voice, and Ross nodded.
     Rigan brought the cart into the barn, stopping as close as possible to the mangled corpses. The bodies were likely to fall to pieces as soon as they began shoveling.
     “Yeah,” Ross replied, getting past the lump in his throat. “Send them off right.” He shook his head. “They say the monsters are all part of the Balance, like life and death cancel each other out somehow. That’s bullshit, if you ask me.”
     The three men bent to their work, trying not to think of the slippery bones and bloody bits as bodies. Carcasses. Like what’s left when the butcher’s done with a hog, or the vultures are finished with a cow, Rigan thought. The barn smelled of blood and entrails, copper and shit. Rigan looked at what they loaded into the cart. Only the skulls made it possible to tell that the remains had once been human.
     “I’m sorry about this, but I need to do it—to keep them from rising as ghouls or restless spirits,” Rigan said. He pulled a glass bottle from the bag at the front of the wagon, and carefully removed the stopper, sprinkling the bodies with green vitriol to burn the flesh and prevent the corpses from rising. The acid sizzled, sending up noxious tendrils of smoke. Rigan stoppered the bottle and pulled out a bag of the salt-aconite-amanita mixture, dusting it over the bodies, assuring that the spirits would remain at rest.
     Ross nodded. “Better than having them return as one of those… things,” he said, shuddering.
     “We’ll have them buried tomorrow,” Corran said as Rigan secured their grisly load.
     “That’s more than fair,” Ross agreed. “Corran—you know if I’d had a choice about calling you—”
     “It’s our job.” Corran cut off the apology. Ross knew about Jora’s death. That didn’t change the fact that they were the only Guild undertakers in this area of Ravenwood, and Ross was a friend.
     “I’ll be by tomorrow afternoon with the money,” Ross said, accompanying them to the door.
     “We’ll be done by then,” Corran replied. Rigan went to pick up the cart’s poles, but Corran shook his head and lifted them himself.
     Rigan did not argue. Easier for him to haul the wagon; that way he doesn’t have to look at the bodies and remember when Jora’s brother brought her for burial.
     Rigan felt for the reassuring bulk of his knife beneath his cloak—a steel blade rather than the iron weapon they used in the banishing rite. No one knew the true nature of the monsters, or why so many more had started appearing in Ravenwood of late. Ghouls weren’t like angry ghosts or restless spirits that could be banished with salt, aconite, and iron. Whatever darkness spawned them and the rest of their monstrous brethren, they were creatures of skin and bone; only beheading would stop them.
     Rigan kept his blade sharpened.

©2017 Gail Z. Martin. All rights reserved. May not be copied or shared in any format except with the written permission of the author.

About Gail Z. Martin

Gail Z. Martin on Monsters and Mayhem
The Hawthorn Moon is the annual summer blog tour for Gail Z. Martin, and features guest blog posts, giveaways, surprises, excerpts and more on sixteen blogs worldwide. Find the master list of posts and goodies at

Gail Z. Martin is the author of Scourge: A Darkhurst novel, the first in a brand new epic fantasy series from Solaris Books. Also new are: The Shadowed Path, part of the Chronicles of the Necromancer universe (Solaris Books); Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Solaris Books); Shadow and Flame the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books); and Iron and Blood a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

She is also author of Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen); The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) and the urban fantasy novels Deadly Curiosities . Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden Adventures. The Storm and Fury Adventures, steampunk stories set in the Iron & Blood world, are co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

Gail is also the organizer for #HoldOnToTheLight, authors blogging about depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide, self-harm and other mental health topics to encourage inclusiveness in fandom and stand in solidarity with fans. Learn more at

Find her at, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on, at blog and, on Goodreads and free excerpts on Wattpad

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee

Please welcome Yoon Ha Lee to The Qwillery. Raven Stratagem (Machineries Of Empire Trilogy 2) is published today by Solaris Books.

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee

TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, Raven Stratagem (Machineries Of Empire Trilogy 2), is published on June 13th. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote Ninefox Gambit (Machineries Of Empire Trilogy 1) to Raven Stratagem?

YHL:  Hello, and thanks for having me! The writing process was mostly the same! In both cases I started with a longhand rough draft written with fountain pen, although with Ninefox I just wrote in notebooks, while in Raven Stratagem, because it has three main POV characters, I color-coded the characters' chapters using pastel Clairefontaine paper in a binder. I also color-coordinated the fountain pen inks (pink paper and red ink for Shuos Mikodez because red is one of the Shuos colors, for example). It's ridiculous, but it made the structure of the book easier to see at a glance, and it appealed to my sense of frivolity. I took later drafts into Scrivener for ease of editing and revisions, and ran them by multiple beta readers, then did more revisions. For revisions, I would write quick summaries of each chapter on index cards along with the POV, and rearrange the index cards so I could quickly reshuffle my plot--especially useful when I had to add some chapters to Raven Stratagem and needed to reorganize the novel so that the midpoint event once again fell at the actual midpoint of the wordcount.

TQNinefox Gambit has been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke, Hugo and Nebula Awards. How does that affect your writing if at all?

YHL:  Well, it made me more of a nervous wreck for a while there, simply because it was so overwhelming! But honestly, while I'm honored for my book to be considered, it doesn't change the day-to-day work of writing. The words still have to get down on the page (or in the computer). Congratulations to all the Nebula winners, by the way!

TQWhat do you wish that you knew about book publishing when Ninefox Gambit came out that you know now?

YHL:  Mostly that the book publishing process takes months to years! I remember having one short story get published by a webzine literally weeks after I sold it. I'm pretty sure you can't do that with print books. It's more like what I imagine running a marathon would be like (if I could run marathons). You have to be in it for the long haul and keep sight of far-off goals.

TQWhat method or methods do you use to keep track of the characters and events in the Machineries of Empire Trilogy?

YHL:  I realized pretty rapidly that I was going to need a continuity bible. Mine is a 40,000-word Scrivener file that I...really should update more often, because it's outdated again, and from time to time I export dated copies in mobi format so I can put it on my Kindle for easy reference. For events, I have a timeline. It's hilarious, because I hate keeping track of dates, but given how obsessed the hexarchate is with numbers and dates, it was impossible not to.

For major characters, I do full write-ups on their personalities, quirks, notable traits, physical appearances, and so on. I also stat them up as if they were overpowered roleplaying game characters, with the caveat that since they're book characters they don't need to adhere to some notion of "game balance." And for some of the major characters I also write up their opinions of the other characters, which may or may not have much basis in reality, since characters have their own biases and misconceptions.

TQ Tell us something about Raven Stratagem that is not in the book description.

YHL:  Partway through the book, you'll get some more backstory on Shuos Jedao and Nirai Kujen and their entirely unhealthy alliance! This includes some things that Jedao himself isn't currently aware of.

TQ Please tell us about the cover for Raven Stratagem.

YHL:  The art is by Chris Moore, who also did the cover art for Ninefox, and it depicts one of the space stations in Raven Stratagem, the Fortress of Spinshot Coins. I think the starships are supposed to evoke ravens based on the title, which I thought was an especially nice touch. I'm thrilled by Moore's covers (I have seen previews of the one for Revenant Gun, which is the third book) and they're all gorgeous, but I have to admit that Raven Stratagem's is my favorite!

TQWhich character in the Machineries of Empire Trilogy (so far) has surprised you the most?

YHL:  I think Hexarch Nirai Kujen. Originally I'd written Ninefox Gambit as a standalone, and Kujen was a very minor character. He ended up becoming much more important than I'd intended. His personality also changed significantly, partly as a consequence of feedback from my sister and my husband regarding the very first draft of Ninefox, in which Jedao was an out-and-out sociopath. I mean, he's still not a particularly nice or good human being, but my sister and husband felt that having Cheris be overshadowed and bullied by someone so palpably evil would make the book too unpleasant for anyone to actually read. So I dialed Jedao back and redid his personality and motivations. But of course, I guess there's a conservation of sociopathy going on, so that Kujen, who was originally a cowardly mad scientist who pursued immortality because he was terrified to die, ended up as a sociopath in revisions. Sorry...? I'm afraid you'll have to wait until the third book to get much more background on him, although there's some more material on him in Raven Stratagem.

TQThe Machineries of Empire Trilogy is Space Opera. What do you think is the appeal of Space Opera?

YHL:  Well, I don't know about anyone else, but for me it's two parts Big Space Battles to one part not having to sweat the fine details of actual physics. Certainly there are space operas that adhere more strictly to known physics and engineering, but there's a whole spectrum of this stuff from technology as essentially magic (which is where Machineries falls) to harder sf, so there's something for everyone. I like physics fine and sometimes read hard sf for fun, but sometimes I don't want to sweat Lorentzian contractions or be bothered about how the FTL system makes no sense. (They rarely do, in my experience...)

The other thing I think might be particularly appealing about space opera is its romantic nature, not in the sense of kissing scenes but larger-than-life plots and personalities. I hear that in history two opposing approaches to understanding events are Big Personalities vs. Massed Social Forces. I think there's value to both approaches (I say, despite not being a historian), but space opera very definitely tends toward Big Personalities, which can be appealing as a fantasy of agency.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Raven Stratagem.


          “Look at the insignia,” the man said. “That’s some kind of officer, isn’t it?”
          Whoever the medics were, they clearly weren’t Kel.
          “That’s a lieutenant colonel, you dimwit.” The owner of the first voice sounded like they wished their companion were something smarter, like a slime mold.

TQWhat's next?

YHL:  I'm currently working on a Korean mythology space opera for middle grade readers called Dragon Pearl for Disney-Hyperion. The heroine is a shapeshifting fox spirit girl searching for her brother, who allegedly deserted from the Space Forces while hunting for the Dragon Pearl of the title--an artifact that can terraform worlds. As you can imagine, considering that this whole thing is set in space, I'm playing fast and loose with the source folklore and not sweating authenticity too much.

After that, I'll be working on a collection of hexarchate short stories called, appropriately, Hexarchate Stories. Half the material will be reprints of extant hexarchate material, and half of it will be new to the collection. And after that, who knows?

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

YHL:  Thank you for having me!

Raven Stratagem
The Machineries of Empire 2
Solaris, June 13, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee
Captain Kel Cheris is possessed by a long-dead traitor general. Together they must face the rivalries of the hexarchate and a potentially devastating invasion.

When the hexarchate's gifted young captain Kel Cheris summoned the ghost of the long-dead General Shuos Jedao to help her put down a rebellion, she didn't reckon on his breaking free of centuries of imprisonment – and possessing her.

Even worse, the enemy Hafn are invading, and Jedao takes over General Kel Khiruev's fleet, which was tasked with stopping them. Only one of Khiruev's subordinates, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, seems to be able to resist the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.


Ninefox Gambit
The Machineries of Empire 1
Solaris Books, June 14, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee
To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics.  Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics.  Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake.  If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own.  As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.

About Yoon Ha Lee

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee
Yoon Ha Lee's first novel, NINEFOX GAMBIT, came out in 2016 from Solaris Books and was shortlisted for the Nebula, Hugo, and Clarke awards. Its sequel, RAVEN STRATAGEM, is forthcoming in June 2017. He lives in Louisiana with his family and an extremely lazy cat, and has not yet been eaten by gators.

Website  ~  Twitter @motomaratai

Yoon Ha Lee has written guides to the factions of the hexarchate in his faction blogs at Solaris Books:








Interview with Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, author of the Children of the Drought Series

Please welcome Arianne 'Tex' Thompson back to The Qwillery!

Interview with Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, author of the Children of the Drought Series

TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. Your newest novel, Dreams of the Eaten (Children of the Drought 3), was published on December 26, 2016. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote One Night in Sixes (Children of the Drought 1) to Dreams of the Eaten?

Tex:  I’m so glad to be back! And I would really like to tell you that I’ve become a much more stable, productive writer since my first book came out. Unfortunately, here in one handy visual chart was my word-count progress on Dreams of the Eaten. (It was due on October 21st).

Interview with Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, author of the Children of the Drought Series

As you can see, my process is apparently an exponential growth-curve of procrastination and deadline panic. Remember, kids: the only minute that counts is the last one!

TQWhat do you wish that you knew about book publishing when One Night in Sixes came out that you know now?

Tex:  You know, I cannot think of a single “overnight success” who has not been writing, publishing, and working in the community for at least a decade. Not even the so-called debut authors. It’s really easy not to realize that when all you see is their giant award-winning bestseller splashed everywhere you look. If I had, I would have stopped comparing myself to them a long time ago, and saved myself a lot of unproductive angst.

TQTell us something about Dreams of the Eaten that is not found in the book description.

Tex:  Y’know, when you’re trying to wrap up a trilogy and make it sound properly epic, all the packaging has to talk up the world-ending cataclysm. You don’t get to say, “by the way, there’s some funny stuff in here too. It isn’t all doom and gloom.” I wish the fantasy market in general was more tolerant of that kind of thing: I feel like we’re at our best (authors, publishers, and readers alike) when we don’t let the genre disappear up itself.

TQWhich character in the Children of the Drought series surprised you the most? Who has been the hardest character to write and why?

Tex:  This is an odd thing to admit, but my principal female character was the hardest one to write. Whenever I’m out in public, I’m usually operating half a dozen layers of empathy, situational awareness, and self-analysis, and it feels REALLY good to turn off one or two of those to write or roleplay a character, usually male, who doesn’t depend on them to navigate their world. Día is hard for me to write because she has to be even more vigilant and thoughtful than I am: as an outsider, a woman alone, and a visible minority, she has to walk through the world more carefully than I ever have. As it turns out, turning off a couple of your own mind-layers is easy – but adding temporary ones is tricky, intricate business.

TQPlease tell us about your fabulous covers!

Tex:  Oh, what covers they are! That is the work of the brilliant Tomasz Jedruszek, a professional artist from Poland whom Solaris commissioned to paint the covers for this series. I was very happy to be able to ask him for certain images and scenes, and happier still that they did not turn out exactly how I’d pictured them. For example, the town of Sixes is a mishmash of adobe buildings built over an old military fort – but what’s on the cover of One Night in Sixes looks more like a medieval European village.

Interview with Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, author of the Children of the Drought Series

That juxtaposition of old-world architecture with new-world landscapes and figures is a huge part of the cover’s appeal, I think, and perfectly reflects the idea of a ‘patchwork’ fantasyland. I love it, and am so lucky to have Tomasz’s beautiful work on my books!

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in the Children of the Drought series?

Tex:  Honestly, sticking my sheltered nose into a political anthill was the last thing I wanted to do with my first novels - but I just couldn’t avoid it. The minute I chose to write a historical American setting, considering race and colonialism and identity became a moral mandate: to include people who have been misrepresented or left out, to build the fantasy world in a way that reflects the struggles of the real one, and (most importantly) to give the characters in that world access to the better future that we’re trying to create right now. I am the least-qualified person to judge how successful I’ve been in that effort, but it would have been tremendously irresponsible not to try.

TQWhich question about Dreams of the Eaten do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Tex:  “Tex, did a fan really actually make this incredible handmade doll version of your main character and make you cry when she surprised you with it at your launch party?”

Interview with Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, author of the Children of the Drought Series

Yes. Her name is MaryLou Condike, and yes. Yes, she did.

TQPlease give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Dreams of the Eaten.

Tex:  Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Tolkien, it’s that you can’t finish a fantasy trilogy without someone climbing a mountain. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from hiking the Sandias in Albuquerque for research, it’s that that is WAY harder than the hobbits make it look.

Elim had never had much of an opinion about mountains. He could approve of them on principle, in much the same way as he would lend his endorsement to petticoats, libraries, and the moon.

That was before he’d tried to climb one.

Now, he’d decided, mountains were awful – just the most horrible, hateful, unnatural piles of shameless man-eating lies. And about the only thing worse than the rocks – the ones in his shoes, the ones in his path, the ones hanging down overhead waiting to crush him like a lizard under a dropped brick – was the nauseating drop mere inches from his feet, the yawning abyss of scrubby red earth just waiting for him to put a foot wrong, just waiting to receive his broken body like a window-pane whacked by a cross-eyed idiot pigeon.

“Hell,” he swore as he inched past. “I was tired of living anyway.”

TQWhat's next?

Tex:  I don’t get a chance to mention it much, but I am a huge fan of Terry Pratchett for all kinds of reasons, especially his Discworld publishing model: one big sandbox with multiple sets of characters, and lots of entry-points into the world and the series. I would like to do something similar: put these characters down for awhile and pick up a new set in some other corner of Droughtworld, for even more rural fantasy adventures. Stay tuned!

TQThank you for joining us again at The Qwillery.

Tex:  Thank you for having me!

One Night in Sixes
Children of the Drought 1
Solaris, July 29, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 464 pages

Interview with Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, author of the Children of the Drought Series
The border town called Sixes is quiet in the heat of the day. Still, Appaloosa Elim has heard the stories about what wakes at sunset: gunslingers and shapeshifters and ancient animal gods whose human faces never outlast the daylight.

And the daylight is running out. Elim's so-called 'partner' - that lily-white lordling Sil Halfwick – has disappeared inside the old adobe walls, hell-bent on making a name for himself among Sixes' notorious black-market traders. Elim, whose worldly station is written in the bastard browns and whites of his cow-spotted face, doesn't dare show up home without him.

If he ever wants to go home again, he'd better find his missing partner fast. But if he's caught out after dark, Elim risks succumbing to the old and sinister truth in his own flesh - and discovering just how far he'll go to survive the night.

Medicine for the Dead
Children of the Drought 2
Solaris, March 31, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, author of the Children of the Drought Series
The story of Appaloosa Elim continues.
Two years ago, the crow-god Marhuk sent his grandson to Sixes.
Two nights ago, a stranger picked up his gun and shot him.
Two hours ago, the funeral party set out for the holy city of Atali'Krah, braving the wastelands to bring home the body of Dulei Marhuk.

Out in the wastes, one more corpse should hardly make a difference. But the blighted landscape has been ravaged by drought, twisted by violence, and warped by magic - and no-one is immune. Vuchak struggles to keep the party safe from monsters, marauders, and his own troubled mind. Weisei is being eaten alive by a strange illness. And fearful, guilt-wracked Elim hopes he's only imagining the sounds coming from Dulei's coffin.

As their supplies dwindle and tensions mount, the desert exacts a terrible price from its pilgrims - one that will be paid with the blood of the living, and the peace of the dead.

Dreams of the Eaten
Children of the Drought 3
Solaris, December 27, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, author of the Children of the Drought Series
As the funeral cortege draws near, the crows begin to gather...

The stunning conclusion of this extraordinary trilogy.

After trials by fire and thirst, Appaloosa Elim's quest to bring home the body of the crow prince is finally nearing its end.

But the coffin is missing, the funeral party is hopelessly scattered, and the fishmen are hell-bent on revenge. Worse yet, the pilgrimage has disturbed an ancient power – and the earth is crumbling in its grip.

As the ground shakes and the crows gather, the final reckoning promises to unite the living and the dead in a battle for the land itself. One way or another, blood debts will come due, Elim will face his judgment, and the World That Is will be forever changed.

About Arianne "Tex" Thompson

Interview with Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, author of the Children of the Drought Series
Arianne "Tex" Thompson is home-grown Texas success story. After earning a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in literature, she channeled her passion for exciting, innovative, and inclusive fiction into the Children of the Drought – an internationally-published epic fantasy Western series from Solaris. Now a professional speaker and writing instructor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Tex is blazing a trail through conferences, workshops, and fan conventions around the country – as an endlessly energetic, relentlessly enthusiastic one-woman stampede. Find her online at and on Twitter as @tex_maam!

Interview with K. M. McKinley, author of The Gates of the World Series

Please welcome K. M. McKinley to The Qwillery. The City of Ice (The Gates of the World 2) was published by Solaris on December 27, 2016 in the US and Canada and is published January 12, 2017 in the UK.

Interview with K. M. McKinley, author of The Gates of the World Series

TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, The City of Ice (The Gates of the World 2), was published on December 27th. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote The Iron Ship (Gates of the World 1) to The City of Ice?

K. M.:  Hi! Thanks for having me back. My writing process changes all the time. I write a lot, and have to vary my writing to keep it interesting for me or I would go insane with the tedium of repetition.

In the case of The Iron Ship and The City of Ice there was one marked difference - with the first book, I wrote quite a bit of it as single narratives, so I did all of Guis’s bits and all of Rel’s bits and so on almost like separate books, then shuffled them together. I use Scrivener, a godsend for that sort of process. Whereas I wrote The City of Ice pretty much as it appears in print, having planned it out more closely than book one, although I jumped around a lot from place to place as I often do, and the plan did change.

TQWhat do you wish that you knew about book publishing when The Iron Ship out that you know now?

K. M.:  I’ve been involved with publishing for a long time. It holds very few surprises!

TQTell us something about The City of Ice that is not found in the book description.

K. M.:  Well, there is a ton of incident in this one. Having spent a lot of time setting up the world in The Iron Ship, I wanted to make book two a really exciting read, something I’ll continue with in book three. A lot happens in this book, and I answer a fair few questions posed in the first. I didn’t want to do a “Lost”, which established a load of mysteries then wholeheartedly avoided giving them any sort of resolution. Hopefully what the actual central mystery is is beginning to crystallise now in the reader’s mind.

TQWhich character in the The Gates of the World series has surprised you the most?

K. M.:  Hmmm. I don’t know. I’m happy with them, which I rarely am. They approach the realism I strive for in my made-up people. As usual, I’ll add the caveat to my thoughts that if I succeeded or not is not for me to judge.

Who has been the hardest character to write and why?

None of them were particularly hard compared to the others. All writing seems massively hard while you are doing it, then looks suspiciously easy in retrospect. Getting the tone of Madelyne’s story arc was tricky. She’s a new character for this book who gets involved with the second of Ruthnia’s last gods, the Infernal Duke, who lives in Perus - that’s the city where much of this book is set. Her part of the story is all about power exchange dynamics in sexual relationships, although there is a dark fantasy twist absent from the real thing.

I had a specific aim in mind for this story arc, it’s a kind of warning in some ways, a celebration in others. But it could very easily have gone a bit Fifty Shades of Grey, and I wanted to avoid that. I didn’t want Madelyne to appear weak or a sap, while at the same time I had to have what happens to her seem believable and to accord with her character as a strong woman. You’ll see what I mean if you read it.

TQHow difficult or easy is it to write siblings?

K. M.:  Pretty easy. I have a lot of them myself. I’ve drawn on my own experiences with these books more than for any other thing I have ever written (barring out and out reportage, even then that was never very personal). It was another goal with this series, to write about really, really personal stuff. That’s always dangerous, though. The brother I based Trassan on in particular loves these books. I hope he isn’t offended by the character, it’s pretty close to the knuckle in places.

TQPlease tell us about your wonderful covers.

K. M.:  I can say that Alejandro Colucci's take on the swooping curves and lines of the city of ice itself inspired my descriptions, as the cover was completed before I had written the book. It’s good to get that kind of synergy between image and words.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in the The Gates of the World series?

K. M.:  You asked me this last year! I always have “issues” in my books, though to make them overly preachy makes them tedious hectoring rather than storytelling. Where there are issues, there is friction, and where there is friction, there are good stories. This is a world gripped by change, and the society there is undergoing upheaval. I return to the plight of the workers in Ruthnia’s new industries for a bit, and again we’re looking at how women can prosper in patriarchal societies. But you know, I don’t want to over-politicise my work. There are insights into my personal philosophies and politics to be had here, but bear in mind other issues in this world include the rights of non-human magical creatures and talking dogs, and the overuse of magic, which would be ridiculous in our world, but in the context of theirs are every bit as important as how many hours six year-olds have to work every day. The use of social issues only gets you so far in storytelling, and it is very easy to get it horribly wrong in several embarassing ways, especially if you approach them with the word “issues” in mind. “Issue” implies a partisan approach to a particular phenomenon. I try hard to see things from all sides.

TQPlease give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The City of Ice.

K. M.:  Firstly, all the best lines are immense spoilers. There are plenty of twists and revelations in The City of Ice. Secondly, I maintain that it’s not up to the writer to choose the best lines from a book, but for the readers. I squirm when asked to sing out how awesome my writing is. I know that’s what you are supposed to do in this internet day and age, but it seems so immodest, and I hate doing it.

TQWhat's next?

K. M.:  I’m always working on various things, but soon I begin work on book three of The Gates of the World, The Brass God, which has been commissioned and should be out next year.

TQThank you for joining us again at The Qwillery.

K. M.:  No problem!

The City of Ice
The Gates of the World 2
Solaris, December 27, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with K. M. McKinley, author of The Gates of the World Series
An ancient city. A wondrous invention. A perilous journey.

The epic sequel to the incredible debut novel The Iron Ship.

Deep in the polar south stands a city like no other, a city built aeons ago by a civilisation mighty and wise.

The City of Ice promises the secrets of the ancients to whomever can reach it first. It may prove too little knowledge too late, for the closest approach of the Twin in 4000 years draws near, an event that has heralded terrible destruction in past ages.

As the Kressind siblings pursue their fortunes, the world stands upon the dawn of a new era, but it may yet be consumed by a darkness from the past.

Industry and magic, gods and steampower collide in the captivating sequel to The Iron Ship.


The Iron Ship
Gates of the World 1
Solaris, May 26, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with K. M. McKinley, author of The Gates of the World Series
An incredible epic fantasy begins!

The order of the world is in turmoil. An age of industry is beginning, an age of machines fuelled by magic. Sprawling cities rise, strange devices stalk the land. New money brings new power. The balance between the Hundred Kingdoms is upset. For the first time in generations the threat of war looms.

In these turbulent days, fortunes can be won. Magic runs strong in the Kressind family. Six siblings strive – one to triumph in a world of men, one to survive murderous intrigue, one to master forbidden sorcery, one to wash away his sins, one to contain the terrible energies of his soul.

And one will do the impossible, by marrying the might of magic and iron in the heart of a great ship, to cross an ocean that cannot be crossed.

About the Author

K. M. McKinley resides near Iverness, in Scotland, not too far from Loch Ness, but not too close either. You never know what’s going to come out of the water.

Interview with Nik Abnett

Please welcome Nik Abnett to The Qwillery. Savant was published on October 4th by Solaris.

Interview with Nik Abnett

The QwilleryWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Nik Abnett:  I started writing as a child. When I was nine or ten, I wrote a play, which was performed at my school for the students and parents. I thought nothing of it at the time. Now, I’m very grateful to a teacher who did a wonderful thing.

I’m not sure there is a ‘why’ for me, so much as there is simply a compulsion to tell stories.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

NA:  By nature, I’m definitely a pantser. I regularly begin a piece of work with only an idea for a theme. I don’t plot or writer character sheets. I like that what comes before in the writing informs what comes later. I love the evolution of ideas over time. If I plotted a novel at the outset, I’d have to have all my ideas in one go.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

NA:  The biggest challenge is getting through the first third of a novel. I read everything I’ve written every day and make a lot of changes as the ideas evolve, so it’s time-consuming and even a little laborious at times. It can also be the most exciting part of the process.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

NA:  I think anything and everything can influence the work. I’m influenced by little things like snippets of conversation. I’m influenced by experiences, and I’m influenced by big things like politics. I might respond to something I’ve read, a picture I’ve looked at, music… Everything is stimulus.

TQDescribe Savant in 140 characters or less.

NA:  Savant: But for one man, the World could end… But for one woman, the man could crumble. Will the authorities allow her to do her job?

TQTell us something about Savant that is not found in the book description.

NA:  The reader will probably never know or understand everything.

TQWhat inspired you to write Savant? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

NA:  Inspiration’s a funny thing. I’d wanted to write a book about unconditional love for a long time (OK this novel didn’t turn out to be about that, but that’s why I like the evolution process). I knew that if I wrote this novel straight it could sound terribly righteous, and I hate a proselytising tone in fiction. Writing this as an SF novel simply gave me more freedom to explore the themes. SF is a great medium for all kinds of ideas; it allows vast scope.

The immediate inspiration was reading someone else’s work. A friend of mine wrote a novel, which was published. I bought a copy, got it signed and began to read. The novel and its sequels have done well, but this just wasn’t my cup of tea. I decided that it was time I wrote the kind of SF that I wanted to read. It was as simple as that. I began writing there and then.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Savant?

NA:  I’m somewhat familiar with Autism and I took an A’level in Maths at school. I needed to re-familiarise myself in both areas, but I didn’t have to begin with first principles, which made research easier than it might otherwise have been. A friend of mine with a seriously autistic child also beta-read for me, for which I am incredibly grateful.

I try to follow the precept that if you can’t answer a research question on a post-it note, you’re probably asking the wrong question. I like to weight my time in favour of writing.

TQIn Savant who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

NA:  I think the easiest characters to write are often the ones we like the most, and I liked all of my central characters. I anticipated finding Tobe difficult to write, because he is Other, but I actually found his voice very quickly. I really loved writing Bob Goodman, who, in some ways is the most human character; he’s warm and funny, and his reactions feel real to me. Pitu 3 was quite difficult to write, because his value in the society is so slight. Balancing his personality with the pathos of his existence wasn’t easy, and I hope I got it right.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Savant?

NA:  I think any time I write about characters and their relationships there is almost bound to be some connection to society as a whole. I don’t mind admitting that I’m quite a political person. I tend to the left, and I’m a feminist. We all live in an imperfect society, and I think it’s natural to comment on that.

TQWhich question about Savant do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

NA:  I imagine every writer will answer this question the same way.

The question I’d most like to be asked is, ‘Will there be a sequel?’

The answer is, ‘I’ve already begun a companion novel, working title ‘Seekers’, set in the same universe, but on the other side of the shield… On the outside.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Savant.

NA:  I think my favourite quote is probably, “It is the same.” It’s something Tobe says often, and it’s central to the novel; it’s like a mantra. I agonised long and hard over the formality of the phrase, but simply couldn’t use the contraction in the end.

On the whole, this probably isn’t a terribly quotable book; it’s very much, I hope, an entire experience.

TQWhat's next?

NA:  Next for me is my first… no… second play. I wrote ‘Ward’ for my daughter to direct, and you can see it in Canterbury on the 28th and 29th of November. It’s a marriage of my writing with my daughter’s flair for physical theatre, and I’m very excited about it.

Of course, I’m working on ‘Seekers’, and I’m cowriting narrative for a computer game with my husband, Dan Abnett, which is yet to be announced.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

NA:  Thank you very much for having me.

Solaris, October 4, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 356 pages

Interview with Nik Abnett
His mind can save the world, if she can save him from the human race...

The Shield is Earth's only defence. Rendering the planet invisible from space, it keeps humanity safe from alien invasion. The Actives maintain the shield - no one is sure how - but without them, the Shield cannot function.

When an Active called Tobe finds himself caught in a probability loop, the Shield is compromised. Soon, Tobe's malady spreads among the Active. Earth becomes vulnerable.

Tobe’s assistant, Metoo, is only interested in his wellbeing. Earth security’s paramount concern is the preservation of the Shield. As Metoo strives to prevent Tobe’s masters from undermining his fragile equilibrium, the global danger escalates.

The Shield must be maintained at all costs...

About Nik

Interview with Nik Abnett
Nik Abnett has published work in a number of mediums, including advertising, training manuals, comics and short stories. She has worked as a ghost writer, is a frequent contributor to Black Library Publishing, and regularly collaborates with her partner, novelist and comic author Dan Abnett. In 2012 she was runner-up for the inaugural Mslexia novel-writing competition. Savant is her first solo, independent full-length work of fiction and publishes summer 2016.

Follow Nik on Twitter, and for more information please visit the official Nik Abnett website.

Interview with Alex White, author of Every Mountain Made Low

Please welcome Alex White to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Every Mountain Made Low was published on October 25th by Solaris.

Interview with Alex White, author of Every Mountain Made Low

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Alex :  Glad to be here!

I started out writing movies. I've been a film geek since I was a teenager, and my friends used to tease me because I was such a little film snob. They started saying, "If you can't do better, we don't want to hear it." So one semester, I had a help desk job and too much time on my hands, so naturally I decided to start banging away at a screenplay. It was a romantic comedy, and needless to say, it was terrible. No one needs to take tips from a high schooler about love and sex. After that, I got a little more serious and wrote a feature-length blockbuster action in 2003, then finally finished my first novel in 2006. I've been writing novels ever since, and I'm about to finish my eighth.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Alex :  I'm meticulous about planning my characters' motivations. Every speaking character in my stories has a decent biography with all of the forces acting upon them. I use Aeon Timeline to map their life stories and determine specific ages for each event, questioning how certain events at certain times would alter their personalities. From there, I tend to naturally divide my books into three acts. I thoroughly plot the first two acts, but leave the third act blank, save for a basic idea. I think a spectacular ending needs to be discovered, and is a function of the character interactions over plot.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Alex :  I always want to write outside of my comfort zone. Each new book needs to be substantially different than anything I've ever produced. If it comes easy to me, I'm not interested. Emotional investment is also key--even my lighthearted comedy starred a character who was deeply flawed, anxious and suicidal. I don't appreciate characters who always maintain the moral high ground, because I'm not sure that's possible in life. I care about the screw-ups, not the sexy, wisecracking swashbucklers.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Alex :  I had a great high school education that focused on mid-century American lit, like CATCHER IN THE RYE, THE GREAT GATSBY and A FAREWELL TO ARMS. From there, I went on to read a lot of Flannery O'Connor, and fell in love with her clear, concise prose. In 2008, I read AND THE HIPPOS WERE BOILED IN THEIR TANKS, and learned that even total assholes can be compelling main characters. In addition to the literary influences, I love big, silly action flicks and stylish cinema. I'm always trying to capture both the literary and the cinematic: big visual ideas filtered through the clearest possible lens.

TQDescribe Every Mountain Made Low in 140 characters or less.

Alex :  An autistic woman living in a late-stage capitalist hellhole is confronted with the ghost of her best friend; seeks revenge for her murder.

TQTell us something about Every Mountain Made Low that is not found in the book description.

Alex :  There are two southern American myths in the story, one explicitly present and one referenced. Tailypo, an Appalachian folk horror classic, is one of the characters who aids Loxley on her path of revenge. He owns a bar, The Hound's Tail, in the darkest depths of the city. The other mythological character is Kate Baggs, otherwise known as the Bell Witch, operating out of Nashville. I like to think that tons of American mythological creatures exist in this setting, from the wendigo to Sasquatch, all hiding just out of sight of the cities.

TQWhat inspired you to write Every Mountain Made Low? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Alex :  My son has autism, and like any father, I wanted to research his condition and make his life easier. The more I learned about him, the more I discovered about myself, my anxieties and habitual behaviors. Like so many parents, I came to believe in the social model of disability--that our civilization creates disabilities through its failure to empathize and provide for people. Meanwhile, I became angrier and angrier with portrayals of autism in the media. I hated the savantism and blank character reduction so commonplace in television and books. I was sick of seeing them reduced to calculators. Autistic characters should be people, not plot devices.

Meanwhile, I had this idea for a book set in the mythical American South. It wasn't really taking shape. I knew I wanted to have a character based around the brown recluse, a highly-poisonous spider native to my area, but I didn't want it to be the "seductress spider" cliche that everyone runs with. I wanted to write a timid character who could be dangerous in unpredictable ways when cornered, but otherwise just wanted to live life alone. When that character became autistic, everything clicked into place, from the overarching narrative to the cutthroat setting.

I included fantastical elements because I can't help it. I love a big, sprawling setting with supernatural elements. To date, every book I've written has had ghosts or magic or ancient curses. It's just the way I do business.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Every Mountain Made Low?

Alex :  I wouldn't ever tackle a book like this without a significant amount of life experience. I focused on reading biographies by autistic people like THE REASON I JUMP, IDO IN AUTISMLAND, CARLY'S VOICE and Temple Grandin's THINKING IN PICTURES. I wanted to hear from people who were actually autistic and weave their experiences into my own. Anything less would be an incredible disservice to a thriving and diverse community of great individuals.

TQIn Every Mountain Made Low who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Alex :  The easiest character to write is Duke Wallace, the theocrat at the center of the conspiracy. Duke is a hyper-conservative evangelical Christian, and we have quite a few of those around here. I grew up in the church, and I was surrounded by some of the abusive beliefs Duke brings to bear on those around him. He thinks he's doing the right thing, but he gets there by not respecting peoples individuality and wishes. He's patronizing and self-aggrandizing, and I find writing him cathartic.

My main character, Loxley, is the hardest to write. I care about her so much, and I want to be respectful of the people with whom she shares her daily struggles. She's a constant balancing act. She has a difficult existence, being surrounded by such an uncaring society, but she isn't there to be pitied. She has trouble perceiving our fragile social nuances, but she's whip-smart and highly capable. People take advantage of her flaws, but she's not a fool. And I can't simply make her an angel. She grew up as part of a racist society, and some of her mother's prejudice has rubbed off on her.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Every Mountain Made Low?

Alex :  This isn't exactly a light read. The town where Loxley lives, the Hole, is an unchecked capitalist paradise. There's no such thing as antitrust, and a single large corporation, the Consortium, owns most of the land in the southeast. They own the roads, utilities and farms. They make most of the food and pharmaceuticals. They supply life itself, and the residents of the Hole are socially-stratified and poverty-stricken. The world is a manifestation of the wealth gap.

I set it in a near-dystopian city because I worry every day about what would happen to my son without me. I hope that people would step in and help him have a happy life, but the conservative politicians where I live defund every social program they can find. Special education often gets cut first, leading to disheartened teachers and disenfranchised students. I believe that, with the moralization of wealth, we create a destructive, uncaring society that actively harms those at the fringes. People with autism face the pervasive bigotry of neurotypical society, and I worked hard to include those constant micro-aggressions.

My story also contains a stream of "well-meaning" men who abuse their influence over others: policemen, employers, executives, landowners. Sometimes these men are subtle, sometimes not. In my town, you can't throw a rock without hitting patriarchal crap, so part of this book is me throwing rocks.

TQWhich question about Every Mountain Made Low do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Alex :  "The word 'autism' never appears in the novel. Why not?"

Thanks. Great question. :-D

Loxley lives in a world that doesn't care about her. There is no such thing as an autism diagnosis for her, since people either learn to survive, or they starve to death in the streets. America has a terrible set of mental health policies, and so it's no surprise that a large percentage of our homeless folks are walking around with un-diagnosed mental health issues. The Hole is America on its worst day.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Every Mountain Made Low.

Alex :

Jayla had her stand up, then helped her replace her smudged jacket. She slipped the mask over Loxley’s face, completing the stranger in the mirror. The violinist on the other side of the glass was beautiful and confident. Mysterious. Strong. A little wild. Her dull hair poked out around the mask at odd angles; she hadn’t tamed it after her bath.

Jayla seemed to notice the unkempt hair at the same time. She stroked it once. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

“I like my hair like this.”

“I could make it even better.”

Loxley shook her head, along with the violinist across from her. She thrilled to see this side of herself, and her voice came out easily and clearly. “No. This is perfect. This is the real me.”


“Over time, Vern taught me that some things were right, and some things were wrong. ‘Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.’ I was a flexible man, soft of character and will. I became a hard man, forged by the hand of God, and he made me inflexible."

TQWhat's next?

Alex :  Nothing I can share yet, but good things are always on the horizon!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Alex :  Thanks for having me!

Every Mountain Made Low
Solaris, October 25, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

Interview with Alex White, author of Every Mountain Made Low
Loxley Fiddleback can see the dead, but the problem is... the dead can see her.

Ghosts have always been cruel to Loxley Fiddleback - but none more than the spirit of her only friend, alive only hours earlier. Loxley isn’t equipped to solve a murder: she lives near the bottom of a cutthroat, strip-mined metropolis known as “The Hole,” suffers from crippling anxiety and can't cope with strangers. Worse still, she’s haunted.

She inherited her ability to see spirits from the women of her family, but the dead see her, too. Ghosts are drawn to her, and their lightest touch leaves her with painful wounds.

Loxley swears to take blood for blood and find her friend’s killer. In doing so, she uncovers a conspiracy that rises all the way to the top of The Hole. As her enemies grow wise to her existence, she becomes the quarry, hunted by a brutal enforcer named Hiram McClintock. In sore need of confederates, Loxley must descend into the strangest depths of the city in order to have the revenge she seeks and, ultimately, her own salvation.

About Alex

Interview with Alex White, author of Every Mountain Made Low
Alex White was born and raised in the American south. He takes photos, writes music and spends hours on YouTube watching other people blacksmith. He values challenging and subversive writing, but he'll settle for a good time.

In the shadow of rockets in Huntsville, Alabama, Alex lives and works as an experience designer with his wife, son, two dogs and a cat named Grim. He takes his whiskey neat and his espresso black.

Every Mountain Made Low is his debut novel.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @alexrwhite

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin

Rowena Cory Daniells’ bestselling fantasy series reissued under new Solaris banner

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin

Solaris is delighted to unveil Solaris Classics, a brand new initiative featuring the cutting edge imprint’s best titles of the last decade, republished and repackaged in bold new livery to be discovered by readers anew.

The first titles to be published under the Solaris Classics banner are the four titles of Rowena Cory Daniell’s The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin series. Featuring distinctive new branding, refreshed cover designs, and additional content such as previously unpublished novella The King’s Man, this first set of Solaris Classics titles represents an exciting new chapter in the Solaris story.

Solaris Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Oliver commented:
“Solaris has now been going for almost eleven years, and I felt that it was time to take stock: to look back over the hundreds of titles we’ve published and to champion the very best of this fiercely independent, innovative and wide-reaching imprint.

Solaris Classics highlights the titles that have shaped our imprint over the years, the titles that have brought widespread critical acclaim, commercial acclaim, and demonstrated the breadth of our publishing vision. Fantasy has been at the core of what we do from the very beginning, and it continues to be a genre that we invest in, constantly looking for new voices while championing the writers that have seen us go from success to success.

Rowena’s King Rolen’s Kin series shows traditional fantasy at its best. This is engrossing, exciting story-telling, designed to immerse the reader in a world of intrigue, magic and political machinations. Rowena’s series will be the vanguard of what I hope to be a series demonstrating the very best in independent genre publishing.”
Rowena Cory Daniells’ King Rolen’s Kin series will be published by Solaris from September 2016.

The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin
by Rowena Cory Daniells

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin
The King’s Bastard
The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin Book One

As magic, madness and political machinations threaten to tear Rolencia apart, King Rolen’s children must do all they can to restore their father’s kingdom. Political intrigue and magic combine in this explosive first book in this bestselling fantasy trilogy.

UK: 8 September 2016      ISBN: 9781781085325
US: 13 September 2016

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin
The Uncrowned King
The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin Book Two
Featuring previously unpublished novella The King’s Men

Rolencia’s ancient enemy Merofynia marches on King Rolen’s castle. Powerless to help, thirteen year old Piro watches as her father, King Rolen, listens to poisoned whispers against Bryen. Determined to prove his loyalty, Bryen races across the country to find help.

ISBN: 9781781085332      UK: 6 October 2016
                                           US: 11 October 2016

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin
The Usurper
The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin Book Three

Byren never sought power, but finds himself at the centre of a growing resistance movement as people flee Palatyne’s vicious soldiers. Can he hope to repel the invasion with a following of women, children and old men?

UK: 3 November 2016      ISBN: 9781781085349
US: 15 November

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin
King Breaker
The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin Book Four

When Cobalt stole the Rolencian throne, Byren, Fyn and Piro were lucky to escape with their lives - now they’ve rallied and set out to avenge their parents' murder. Byren is driven to defeat Cobalt and reclaim the crown, but at what cost?

ISBN: 9781781085356      UK: 1 December 2016
                                            US: 6 December 2016

About the author

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin
Rowena Cory Daniells is passionate about writing. She lives by the bay with her husband and has six children. In her spare time she has devoted five years to studying each of these martial arts Tae Kwon Do, Aikido and Iaido, the art of the Samurai Sword. In 2016 Rowena was stunned when she was awarded the Peter McNamara Achievement Award for services to the speculative fiction genre.

Follow Rowena on Twitter, and for more information please visit the official Rowena Corey Daniells website.

More information!

The King’s Bastard
The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin Book One
Solaris, September 13, 2016
Trade Paperback, 400 pages

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin
The classic fantasy series, The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin, is now re-issued in stunning new trade paperback editions.

Byren never wanted the throne. It was destined for Lence, his twin brother, older by seven minutes and the rightful heir to Rolencia. But the royal heir resents Byren’s growing popularity, and in the court of King Rolen, the shadows are thick with enemies plotting revolution.

Darkness stirs across Rolencia and untamed magic of the gods wells up from the earth’s heart, twisting the minds of men with terrible visions. The touched must learn to control their gift - or die. Disharmony stirs within Rolen’s household, and as magic, madness and political machinations threaten to tear Rolencia apart, King Rolen’s children must do all they can to restore their father’s kingdom...

The Uncrowned King
The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin Book Two
Solaris, October 11, 2016
Trade Paperback, 384 pages

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin
The second volume in the classic fantasy series, The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin, is now re-issued in a stunning new trade paperback edition. Includes the exclusive first-printing of The King's Man novella!

Thirteen year old Piro watches powerless as her father’s enemies march on his castle. A traitor whispers poison in the King’s ear, undermining his trust in her brother, Byren. Determined to prove his loyalty, Byren races across the path
of the advancing army, towards the Abbey. Somehow, he must get there in time to convince the Abbot to send his warriors to defend the castle.

Meanwhile, the youngest of King Rolen’s sons, Fyn, has barely begun his training as an Abbey mystic, but he wakes in a cold sweat, haunted by dreams of betrayal...

Also includes the bonus novella, never before seen in print, The King's Man!

When Dovecote estate fell, Garzik, younger son of Lord Dovecote, was captured and sent back to Merofynia as a prize of war. Feeling responsible for the fall of his father’s estate – and therefore, ultimately, the fall of the Kingdom of Rolencia – Garzik must set things right before he can return home. He decides to turn his misfortune into opportunity, to spy for the rightful king, Byren, who yet thinks him slain at Dovecote. With fortune on his side, he may learn something that could change the path of the war, then escape, return home, find Byren and redeem himself. For Garzik is and always will be the king’s man.

The Usurper
The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin Book Three
Solaris, November 15, 2016
Trade Paperback, 384 pages

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin
The third volume of the classic fantasy series, The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin, is re-issued in a stunning new trade paperback edition.

Now a slave, Piro finds herself in the royal palace of Merofynia, serving her parents’ murderer. She must watch every step, for if her real identity is discovered, she will be executed.

Fyn is desperate to help his brother, now the uncrowned king of Rolencia. Byren never sought power, but finds himself at the centre of a growing resistance movement as people flee Palatyne’s vicious soldiers. Can he hope to repel the invasion with a following of women, children and old men?

King Breaker
The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin Book Four
Solaris, December 6, 2016
Trade Paperback, 448 pages

Solaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin
The fourth and final volume of the classic fantasy series, The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin, is re-issued in a stunning new trade paperback edition.

When Cobalt stole the Rolencian throne, Byren, Fyn and Piro were lucky to escape with their lives; now they’ve rallied, and will set out to avenge their parents’ murders.

Byren is driven to defeat Cobalt and reclaim the crown, but at what cost? Fyn has sworn to serve Byren’s interests but his loyalty is tested when he realises he loves Byren’s betrothed. And Piro never wanted to win a throne, but now she holds the fate of a people in her hands.

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee

Please welcome Yoon Ha Lee to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Ninefox Gambit was published on June 14th by Solaris Books.

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Yoon:  Howdy! I became interested in writing in 3rd grade, when my teacher, Mr. McCracken, had a habit of dressing up as the superhero "Story Man"

and coming in to teach us about creative writing. Up until then, I had had some vague notion that stories fell out of the sky or grew on trees or something. The idea that people wrote books was amazing, and I wanted to try my hand at it. So for years, my sister and I wrote little stories for each other, even making "book catalogues" with catchy summaries and ordering stapled-paper "books" from each other, most of which we failed to actually finish writing.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Yoon:  Plotter, definitely. I envy pantsers, but when I try to do it that way, I write myself into a hole pretty consistently.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Yoon:  Oh my God, characterization. When character-oriented writers talk to me about how easy it is to have characters in their heads who come alive and tell them what they (the characters) want to do, I am so envious! I do best when I can relate to something about the character's personality.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does your background in mathematics influence your writing?

Yoon:  Reading Roger Zelazny and Patricia McKillip in high school taught me that language could be beautiful for its own sake. For worldbuilding, I've been influenced by a number of game settings. For example, Planescape was an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons setting with several factions in which reality is shaped by belief, even to the point that cities can shift out of one dimensional plane and into another. Another is Warhammer 40,000 with its bloodthirsty endless grimdark wars; I am not willing to pay for the miniatures, but I really enjoy the over-the-top-ness of it all. And the third I'd like to mention is Legend of the Five Rings, which is a samurai fantasy setting where the clans are in conflict all the time, with bonus demons and zombies.

For short fiction, I often structure stories like a proof, starting with the core premise (axioms) and reaching a conclusion (theorem). I didn't do that in Ninefox Gambit, but I used some mathematical imagery and concepts. I think math is incredibly beautiful. People think of numbers sometimes as being really cold and impersonal, but I think of them as being incredibly personal. Math is the language the universe is written in, and numbers are literally life and death! I've tried to get across some of that in Ninefox Gambit.

TQDescribe Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire Trilogy 1) in 140 characters or less.

Yoon:  Disgraced captain teams up with undead tactician to save the galaxy from heretics. The catch: the tactician may be out to kill her.

TQTell us something about Ninefox Gambit that is not found in the book description.

Yoon:  The world's technology base is mostly magic--and the magic is based on calendars. If everyone uses the same calendar, it enables one set of technologies. If people start using a different calendar, those technologies--which include things like the stardrive and FTL communications--stop working and other technologies become enabled. So the government has a very strong incentive to enforce timekeeping. I got this idea from reading about different calendar systems in Marcia Ascher's ethnomathematics book Mathematics Elsewhere, with a side of Harlan Ellison's "The Paladin of the Lost Hour."

TQWhat inspired you to write Ninefox Gambit? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

Yoon:  A couple years earlier, I had started writing a space opera fanfic version of Legend of the Five Rings (L5R). I had to pause this project when I tried out to become one of L5R's official Story Team writers for Alderac Entertainment Group. As it turned out, I was one of two writers selected to be added to the team (Robert "Spooky" Denton was the other), so I definitely had to shelve that fic. And then I was busy writing official game tie-in fiction, which was a great experience.

Later, after I'd stopped writing for AEG, I realized I still wanted to write a space opera. I'd been publishing short sf for years, but I was interested in trying something with more scope for a bigger world and a larger plot, especially since space opera is about scale!

The other thing was that I had become addicted to TV Tropes. My favorite pages on that site, then as now, are Moral Event Horizon, Magnificent Bastard, and Chessmaster. I wanted a chance to use those tropes in my own writing, and so I started brainstorming Ninefox Gambit with those in mind.

What I like about science fiction is that it lets me tell stories about worlds that aren't. As long as I can keep things entertaining and spin in some general plausibility, I can make up a lot of details. It also lets me imagine a spacefaring future. I'm personally too chicken to ever leave the planet and with my health problems I'd be a lousy candidate for it anyway, but with the help of the imagination, I can go anywhere I like without leaving my couch.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Ninefox Gambit?

Yoon:  Tons of military reading, for starters. While my dad was an Army surgeon for a while, I don't have any military background. I read field manuals (my favorite is FMFRP 12-2 Infantry in Battle) and I've spent most of my life reading military history, which helped. I also read Ross Anderson's Security Engineering (both editions) to prepare for writing my antagonist, and some of the related cryptology stuff I already knew about from studying it as a math major. Also some stuff on game design--I have done a little of that, so I was already interested in the topic--because one of the characters has a standing interest in games.

The weirdest thing I ended up researching was goose farming. Someone kindly pointed me to Dave Holderread's The Book of Geese. I spent a full week asking my husband if we could quit it all and start up a goose farm in the country, and he reminded me that I like to get up around noon and this is not conducive to farming. It did, however, give me a great excuse to do roast goose for Thanksgiving, so at least I got something tasty out of it?

TQIn Ninefox Gambit who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Yoon:  Jedao was the easiest character once I figured out his voice. Disturbingly, he wouldn't shut up! I'm actually a little shocked, because his personality is the opposite of mine. He's a raging extrovert who loves being around people and he's a lot smarter than I am. (Also, I am not a mass murderer and I totally disapprove of mass murder. Just so that's clear.) But the fact that he was the antagonist also made him a lot of fun. If you point at any of his lines of dialogue, I can tell you whether he's telling the truth or lying or something in between, and why he's saying what he's saying.

The protagonist, Cheris, was the hardest. I designed her to complement Jedao, which meant she was introverted and quiet, and it was a struggle sometimes to make her compelling when the contrast was so strong.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Ninefox Gambit?

Yoon:  I didn't write Ninefox Gambit to be about social issues per se--I intended it as a rather bloodthirsty space adventure--but some of that inevitably comes in when you talk about dictatorship. The setting is an extremely restrictive and dystopian police state. A certain amount of the story involves Cheris learning to think beyond the confines of her upbringing.

TQWhich question about Ninefox Gambit do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Question: Why do the ships and space stations look like that?

Answer: Confession time. I'm almost completely non-visual--I have perfect pitch and I can hear symphonies in my head, but pictures, forget it. So when I name things, it's to evoke a feeling.

The starships are called "voidmoths" because they're based on biotech; they're actually enslaved and cyborged aliens. (The protagonist doesn't know this, though.) As for the space stations, I just gave them interesting-sounding names without thinking about what they would look like.

This became interesting when it came to the cover. To be perfectly frank, I was expecting to have the frequent thing happen where the cover illustration bears tenuous resemblance to anything that actually happens in the book. So I was shocked to be asked about the setting and its visuals. The illustrator, Chris Moore, did a fantastic job of interpreting my names! The station on the cover of Ninefox Gambit is the Fortress of Scattered Needles. It sure looks like its name!

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Ninefox Gambit.

"What happened to the cup?" He was waiting for her to ask anyway. Was there a trap in the question?

"I lost it on campaign. Ambush, a nasty one. One of my soldiers went back for the fucking thing against direct orders because she thought a cup mattered more to me than her life. You won't find this in the records. I didn't think there was any sense shaming her family with the details since she was already dead."

Jedao could be lying to her and she would have no way of verifying the story. But no one could have guessed that the small details of his life would matter centuries later. If they mattered. What she didn't understand was, what was he trying to prove with the anecdote? He sounded like a good commander. Of course, everyone had thought he was a good commander until he stopped being a good human being.

TQWhat's next?

Yoon:  I've already turned in the second book of the trilogy, Raven Stratagem. Right now I'm revising a space opera comedy novelette about Jedao doing a mission back when he was a starship commander (goose fat is involved and in fact crucial to the plot), and working on the third book of the trilogy, Revenant Gun.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Yoon:  Thank you for having me!

Ninefox Gambit
The Machineries of Empire 1
Solaris Books, June 14, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee
To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics.  Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics.  Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake.  If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own.  As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.

About Yoon Ha Lee

Interview with Yoon Ha Lee
Yoon Ha Lee's short fiction has appeared in, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and other venues. His short story collection Conservation of Shadows came out from Prime Books in 2013. He lives in Louisiana with his family and an extremely lazy cat, and has not yet been eaten by gators.

Website  ~  Twitter @motomaratai

2016 Debut Author Challenge Update - Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

2016 Debut Author Challenge Update - Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

The Qwillery is pleased to announce the newest featured author for the 2016 Debut Author Challenge.

Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit
The Machineries of Empire 1
Solaris Books, June 14, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

2016 Debut Author Challenge Update - Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics.  Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics.  Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake.  If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own.  As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.

Guest Blog by Paul Kearney

Please welcome Paul Kearney to The Qwillery. Paul's upcoming novel, The Wolf in the Attic, will be published on May 10th by Solaris. I asked Paul to write about Oxford, England - the setting for the novel.

Guest Blog by Paul Kearney

I lived in Oxford for five years, three of them while I was studying at the University, and then two more while I was writing my first book and unsure of what it was I was destined to do with my life. So I saw the city from two opposing sides. Firstly, as a student, a callow Irishman who didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, and then, later, as someone outside the college atmosphere, just trying to make a living. Both aspects of my time there were invaluable- vital, even, in order to come to some kind of real familiarity with the place. Town and Gown, as it’s described.
        I got my first real beating in Oxford, at the hands of a bunch of football fans, and as a barman I saw another side to the place entirely. But I never lost my love of the city. And not only the streets and pubs and colleges, but the countryside which surrounded them. It is still possible – just – to walk up one of the hills surrounding Oxford and see a view of a place which does not seem to have changed in centuries. Put simply, it is in my eyes the most beautiful city in England.
        My own college was founded in 1427, and its alumni are as varied as John le Carre and Dr Seuss. You cannot but be awed (as an eighteen year old especially) by a place which holds such an enormous amount of history. I still think of my time there as a privilege, which, inevitably, being eighteen years old, I did not make full use of.
        I fell in love there for the first time, made friends I still have today, and was allowed to peer into a vast intellectual world which I am still exploring. One of my Norse tutors, Ursula Dronke, had known and worked with JRR Tolkien (‘If only he hadn’t wasted so much time on those silly Hobbit books,’ she said to me once). I drank in the same pubs – at that time barely altered – in which Tolkien and Lewis and the rest of the Inklings had smoked their pipes and debated the merits of Middle Earth and Narnia.
        As a would-be writer, how could one not be inspired by living in a place like that?

After I left Oxford, there was a long gap of almost twenty years when I was off living abroad, writing, trundling on with my life. When I finally went back, I found the place very changed. It was... shinier. At the same time more affluent and less authentic. But the essence of it was still intact.
        Two events around that time made a large mark on my psyche. Firstly my father died. He was, and remains, the best man I have ever known. Secondly, I went walking on the Ridgeway for the first time in two decades, some two months after his funeral, alongside my brother and cousin. All three of us had been educated at Oxford- a small miracle for a down-to-earth rural County Antrim family. And we all share a love for the city, and the landscape which surrounds it.
        I don’t know if it was a kind of simmering grief, or the fellowship of the road, but I began to think of Oxford as a place which was somehow more than just significant in memory and experience. It was as though it were some other force by itself, a catalyst for inspiration which had been lying dormant in my mind for the better part of thirty years. In any case, it became even more of an emotional touchstone for me, and I began to realise that whatever I wrote next, Oxford would be in it. More than that; the city and its history would somehow provide a key to the unfolding of the story itself.
        So I drew on those distant memories. The eighteen year old me had often felt lost and alone in my early days there, and the place had been busy and uncaring at first, especially to the young Irishman with a close (and large) family. But I found friendships there which endured, and a sense of belonging which never afterwards left me.
        The nostalgia of a fifty year old man is not to be trusted. Oxford changes year on year, with each new influx of students. But I like to think that what makes it special is something which cannot be replicated, and cannot be destroyed, even in this throwaway, narcissistic age.
        I hope that is the case, for if it is not, then something truly unique will have been lost forever.

The Wolf in the Attic
Solaris, May 10, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Guest Blog by Paul Kearney
1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien... and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them.

Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer's wine-dark sea.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.

About Paul

Guest Blog by Paul Kearney
Paul Kearney is the critically-acclaimed author of The Monarchies of God and the Sea Beggars series. He has been long-listed for the British Fantasy Award. In the eight years subsequent to the publication of The Way to Babylon, Kearney lived in Copenhagen, New Jersey, and Cambridgeshire, but at present he makes his home a stone's throw from the sea in County Down, with his wife, two dogs, a beat-up old boat, and far too many books.

Gail Z. Martin on Monsters and MayhemInterview with Yoon Ha LeeInterview with Arianne 'Tex' Thompson, author of the Children of the Drought SeriesInterview with K. M. McKinley, author of The Gates of the World SeriesInterview with Nik AbnettInterview with Alex White, author of Every Mountain Made LowSolaris Classics launches with The Chronicles of King Rolen’s KinInterview with Yoon Ha Lee2016 Debut Author Challenge Update - Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha LeeGuest Blog by Paul Kearney

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