I had the privilege to trap one of fantasy’s most underrated authors, Sebastien de Castell, in a conversation the other day. In it he revealed some interesting tid bits on both his Greatcoats series as well as his new upcoming novel, Spellslinger. For those of you who have read the novels, hopefully this gives you some more insight into the series. For those of you that have not, I hope it inspires you to pick it up. My reviews for the first three books in the series can be found here and here.
You have talked about your inspiration here for The Greatcoats, but I have not seen you mention The Three Musketeers despite many parallels. Did this classic tale provide inspiration for the story?
I think you might just be the first reviewer to notice my avoidance of mentioning The Three Musketeers when asked about inspirations—well spotted!
While the Greatcoats books deal with some of the same themes as Dumas—about friendship and honour and daring—my own writing style is very different, and in fact much more influenced by Noir writers and some of the New Wave sci-fi and fantasy writers like Roger Zelazny than by Dumas or Cervantes.
More importantly, though the Greatcoats series is set in a late-Renaissance fantasy world, like most writers, my stories are ultimately about my time and the issues I see around me rather than about harkening back to some earlier era. I suspect that was just as true for Dumas, writing in the early nineteen hundreds.
On a related note, what are some of your favorite fantasy novels?
The truth is, I don’t read that much fantasy anymore. For some reason it interferes with my writing process. One of my excuses for this is that I think that it’s good for fantasy authors to read outside the genre and bring some of that to fantasy fans to both keep things fresh and grow the field. But it’s equally true that I’m simply too analytical when reading fantasy these days and it interferes with my enjoyment.
That said, I could pretty much always pick up a Robin Hobb book and enjoy it, and the same is true of Steven Brust. For fans of Dumas, by the way, Brust’s Khaavren Romances (the first of which is The Phoenix Guards) are a very well-regarded and genuine tribute to Dumas’ Three Musketeers.
With your three protagonists, Falcio, Brasti, and Kest, it seems like it would have been tempting to go with multiple points of view as opposed to just the one following Falcio. Why did you decide to go with just the one?
I tend to write in first-person because, for me, it feels closest to the heart of the character, and with the Greatcoats, the drama comes not just from the swashbuckling but from knowing exactly what Falcio’s thinking and feeling at the time. I had originally thought of writing a trilogy in which each of the books was told from the perspective of one of the three characters, but I think that would have felt jarring for the reader. Falcio isn’t just the main character—he’s our eyes and ears into the world and his perspective is what gives continuity to the twisting, shifting events of the story.
One of my favorite things about The Greatcoat series is that the greatcoats are never really the strongest, smartest, fastest people in the room. Instead they focus on the law and doing what’s right and it gives them an angle that feels fresh at least to me. Was this intentional or just a side effect of making them traveling lawmen?
The Greatcoats is very much a swashbuckling adventure series—an expression of my own love of that style and sensibility. But the problem with “swashbuckling” (which I define as trying to solve a problem with daring and style) is that it tends to give us unbeatable characters. When those characters lose, the reason is usually pretty weak (I mean, why did character X suddenly lose that fight when we’ve seen him win twenty other ones against bigger odds?) This is why it’s so hard to keep a swashbuckling adventure series fresh. With the Greatcoats, I needed there to be weaknesses in the characters that even they tended not to see—but which the reader could—so that when they do lose, it’s for believable reasons.
The other reason for the way the characters behave is that, for me, anyway, heroism has to have some fundamental purpose. If it’s just about “beating the bad guy” then it’s not heroism at all—it’s just fighting enemies. So one of the issues that perennially troubles Falcio, Kest, and Brasti is why are they getting into this fight, and will it do any good even if they win? In fact, a good deal of Saint’s Blood involves Falcio being challenged on that very question.
I saw that you announced your plans for Spellslinger, a YA fantasy novel about an aspiring new mage. Do you have any plans for other adult fantasy series outside The Greatcoats universe?
That’s a great question—one I wish I could answer.
I have a file on my computer that currently contains 44 different novel and series concepts. Some of them have sample scenes, some are outlines, and some are just vague descriptions of an idea. Some of the ideas are fantasy series, some are mystery, a couple of sci-fi, horror, one historical romance (in my defence, I only came up with it because one of the early test covers for Traitor’s Blade looked like a romance novel), and a few straight literary.
Right now, my focus is on making the Greatcoats into the best possible series it can be—something I’ll want to re-read twenty years from now. I want the same for Spellslinger, which has the added challenge that it’s intended to reach both a YA and adult audience. There’s also discussions going on about what happens next in the world of the Greatcoats. So, when I think about all that, it’s hard for me to internally commit to a whole new fantasy series. I don’t want to write repeats of my previous work, so it might be important that I write a few things outside the genre in order to keep my own brain stretching.
Your writing is some of the best humor I have ever read. Does this have to do with your natural author’s voice, or is it something you pushed for in The Greatcoats? For example, will your new series Spellslinger have a similar humorous element and tone?
Part of it just comes from my family background where saying something clever and witty was akin to a competitive sport around the dinner table. But with the Greatcoats the humour is something integral to the main characters—it’s how they deal with the horror around them and the chance that this time one of them could die.
Spellslinger has some of that humour but not in quite the same way. Kellen is sixteen, he’s not as experienced and he’s not as sure of himself. In some ways it’s more fun for me because the humour is more spontaneous and unexpected.
You announced that the 4th Greatcoat novel, Tyrant’s Throne, will be the final about these characters. Yet, as I have read through Saint’s Blood I can’t help but feel the story is getting bigger and more interesting with each book. Would you consider making more novels with these characters or is Tyrant’s Throne the definitive end?
There are discussions…stay tuned.
Falcio’s title is The King’s Heart, what would yours be?
Alas, my friend, that is a secret that goes with me to the grave.