The Reserve – 6 Authors You Can Always Depend On

Today I am going to talk about something a little different. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I read a lot of books each year. Last year I read about 90 books (40 new releases and 50 older ones). Due to this, it actually matters a lot to my reading stamina to be careful about the order in which I read books. Reading fatigue is a real thing, and I try to make sure that I stagger books of different genre, topic, and quality to keep me from getting jaded. As such, there are a set of authors I keep in reserve as palate cleansers. These authors are my pinch hitters that I bring in when I know I need a book that is going to be good to get me out of a slump. Each of these authors has more than ten works to read and, while not every one their books is a 10/10, each of them can be depended on to be at least good.

Brandon Sanderson – You all knew it was coming, let’s just get him out of the way; Sanderson. I think Sanderson’s weakest novel is Elantris, a book I have on my best standalone fiction list. With Sanderson you always know you are going to get an inventive new magic system, lovable characters with humorous dialogue, an exciting and interesting plot, and timely release dates. Sanderson is just the most dependable author out there, and I don’t even bother to read his book blurbs anymore.

Peter Hamilton – A prolific science fiction writer who writes 1000 page books thick enough to be used as weapons. I find that Hamilton tends to inspire love/hate reactions to his work, but if you fall into the love category you will like everything he writes. He never ceases to amaze with new ideas and concepts that blow the mind. His books are always meticulously written, exploring every possible theoretical effect of things like inventing new technology on humanity. He is an expert in writing books that make science fiction worlds feel real, and despite being a slow read I have never regretted setting aside a month for one of his books.

Guy Gavriel Kay – Do you want to cry? Because you will if you read any Guy Gavriel Kay book. Much like Hamilton, Kay is a writer who creates slow, moving masterpieces that take a while to complete. However, where Kay distinguishes himself is in the deep emotional impact that is in every single one of his books. I have never read a Kay novel that didn’t immerse me fully in the story, and every one of his stories have the ability to play your emotions like an instrument. If you ever need to get in touch with your sensitive side or want an emotional roller coaster, Kay can provide.

China Miéville – Or sometimes you just really want something different. China Miéville’s work is so different from everyone else, that I often just categorize him as his own genre. However, while many authors sit in the realm of weird, Miéville is the only one I have read to never sacrifice quality in the pursuit of being different. Every Miéville book will transport you to an unrecognizable world with strange rules and people, but you will never feel lost or overwhelmed as he guides you through his perverse landscapes. If you want to try one of his books, just read the backs of a few and grab whatever catches your fancy – you will not be disappointed.

David Gemmell – The worst part about these last two, is that the both tragically passed away and cannot grace the world with any more of their stunning work. While some of the authors above are my go to’s for long sweeping tales, Gemmell is the king of short and sweet. And while his books may be shorter, they sacrifice nothing in terms of quality. Gemmell is the king of classical fantasy, each book transporting me back to my childhood and the joy that came when you first heard someone describe a medieval battle. Gemmell’s writing is like a sword slash: simple, effective, and devastatingly powerful to those on the receiving end. His reimagining of the Odyssey and the Iliad turned books I could never penetrate into some of my favorite reads. His characters are some of the most memorable I have ever read, and I never regret taking a detour from my planned reading to spend a day or two in the Drenai Saga.

Terry Pratchett – The one and only. Terry Pratchett’s work never ceases to amazing me. In many fantasy novels, there is a weird mysterious character that is strange but always seems to know everything. I think all of them are based on Pratchett. Every one of his books manage to be both so funny I can’t read them in a quiet library, and so wise that I feel like he and Confucius would have been peers. Pratchett has been teaching me lessons since I was a teenager, and I still think he is teaching me lessons as I read him in my late 20’s. His books can often have a eye opening or life changing effect on the reader who is wise enough to pick one up. I am sad every single time I look at my bookshelf that he is not around to continue sharing his wisdom.

The Rook – Making Amnesia Memorable

51fhamzlixlThe Rook, by Daniel O’Malley, is a book that has been on my watch list for a long time. I originally came across it while looking for titles to add a little variety into my reading, and a lot of people I trusted told me to check it out. I held off for a long time as the book centers around a protagonist with amnesia, which is one of my absolute least favorite plot points. However, when I was looking for a book to throw into my book club’s reading list, I had a suspicion it would be generate good discussion and added it to our curriculum. This month was finally The Rook’s chance to shine, and shine it did. It impressed me with a story that has a lot more going for it than the blurb on the back suggests.

The Rook is hard to accurately categorize into a subgenre of fiction. The story takes place in modern day England and follows the story of a Myfanwy (pronounced like Tiffany with a M) Thomas, a member of a government agency that polices and handles all otherworldly happenings both inside and outside of England. The organization is filled with all sorts of people with strange powers who go out and handle strange situations. This, however, is actually not the focus of the book. Instead, our story primarily focuses on the life of our protagonist. Myfanwy is a Rook, a special high ranking operative that oversees a large part of the organization and is in charge of a great deal of the goings on. This is problematic as she has lost all her memories and has no idea how to do her job anymore. As mentioned before, the plot of The Rook begins with our protagonist waking up in a park with absolutely no memories and a letter in her pocket from her past self telling her what to do. While I usually hate amnesia, The Rook has an interesting new take on the concept as Myfanwy’s story is not about reclaiming her past memories. The Rook goes to great length to distinguish the two Myfanwys, past and present, and alternates following them as past Myfanwy tried to discover how she will lose her memories, and present Myfanwy tries to blend in and get by in a government organization she is supposed to be partially in charge of. Myfanwy is an incredible, deep, and interesting protagonist; in particular because the two versions are so different from one another they can be considered separate characters. It was a fascinating writing style that captured me as a reader and had me staying up to find out what would happen next.

Past Myfanwy communicates with her future self through a series of hundreds of letters she left in preparation for her eventual memory loss. This writing technique essentially allows O’Malley to cheat and dump worldbuilding on the reader quickly and seamlessly as past Myfanwy explains how things work to the memoryless present Myfanwy. Due to this, The Rook is able to have a lightning fast pace with tons of action, while not sacrificing any depth or power in its worldbuilding. The prose is fantastic and the entire book has a very dry british sense of humor that would occasionally take me by surprise and have me in stitches. The entire plot of the book circulates around finding the traitor that stole Myfanwy’s memories, but does a good job working in a variety of subplots and set pieces that make it the kind of book that is incredibly hard to put down. Myfanwy is also one of the best female protagonists I have read, feeling like a real person that anyone could relate to. Based on all the things I have said, I was prepared to give The Rook a perfect 10 around the 50 percent mark, but that is right around where it hit a few snags.

First, while most subplots that are introduced in the story are woven in very nicely, there are one or two introduced in the middle that seemed unnecessary. In particular, there is a subplot where she connects with long lost family that seemed extremely out of place in the story and just didn’t really add much. In addition, there were few holes in The Rook’s worldbuilding that I would have expected O’Malley to address. It is possible that he is saving this information for the sequel, Stiletto, out later this month, but with his letters from the past it would have been incredibly easy to patch the holes with little effort.

In the end, The Rook is still a marvelous novel that chronicles a captivating personal journey of a woman in a fascinating situation and fantastical setting. There were only a couple problems that held the book back from achieving the perfection I suspect O’Malley is capable of, but they are just small speed bumps on an otherwise fast paced ride. The Quill to Live definitely recommends The Rook to anyone and everyone, and I am extremely excited to see what Stiletto has in store for me in a few weeks.

Rating: The Rook – 8.5/10

The Last Mortal Bond – Out With A Wimper

51fjxpqqg1l-sx316I really liked The Emperor’s Blades, by Brian Staveley. The novel debuted in 2013 as the start of the epic Unhewn Throne trilogy, and is a good part of the reason I consider 2013 one of the best years for new debuts I have experienced. Now, three years later, the finale to the trilogy has arrived in the form of The Last Mortal Bond. For those of you unfamiliar with the series it follows the three children of an emperor who is preparing his heirs to take over rulership of the country. He sends one child to be trained as a monk, one to be trained as an assassin, and keeps one with him to train in statecraft. The first book opens with the emperor’s death, and follows the story of the three children as they attempt to hold the country together using their training, and uncover their father’s murderer. The first book, The Emperor’s Blades, focuses on each child in isolation, and their training. The Second book, The Province of Fire, thrusts the children into the world with differing ideals, and shows their clash as they wrestle with different schools of thought and their attempts to reunite with their siblings. Finally, the third book, The Last Mortal Bond, brings the epic story to a conclusion as the story showcases the deeply developed children as they band together using their different mentalities to solve the crisis plaguing their nation and avenge their father. Or that’s at least what I wanted to happen in the final book. Instead, The Last Mortal Bond provided an enjoyable experience but one that, to me, does not fully deliver an ending that was promised by books one and two. Many of these problems come from narration choices by Staveley that I do not understand, and heavily detract from the story, but I will get to that further on. To begin with let’s start with the good.

One of the absolute strengths of The Unhewn Throne is Staveley’s incredible and inventive world building. The monks, assassins, and cities have extremely well developed cultures that are original and fascinating. Staveley has recently announced a spin off book about one of his characters and I am super excited simply to hear more about that part of the world. In The Last Mortal Bond, we continue to see new and interesting places and experience awesome new cultures that sucked me into the book. That being said, I also want to bring attention to a slight negative in Staveley’s worldbuilding. Despite his ability to create incredible places, Staveley does a poor job of setting up his world to be explored later. It often feels like the first time we hear about new nations, cities, and people, are seconds before the characters meet them and this leads to a feeling of deus ex-machina.

A second major strength of the story is the character development. As mentioned previously, each of the children is on a journey to learn a different school of thought and then take it into the world to see what happens. I really enjoyed how each character changed and grew through The Providence of Fire, but I do not understand what happened to this development in The Last Mortal Bond. I feel like I was supposed to learn a lesson in this series about respecting different methods to solving a problem and about how arrogance is a bad thing, but the third book seemed to lose all cohesion with the character arcs. Some characters continued growing as I guessed they would in the intro to this review, some regressed to pre-training mentalities for reasons I do not understand, and some just stopped growing completely. In the end it left me incredibly frustrated and confused as to who the three children were supposed to be, making it hard to understand some of the plot points at the end of the book.

While I could accept and ignore the problems I mentioned above, there were also some alarming narration choices that heavily detracted from my enjoyment of The Last Mortal Bond. In the final book of the trilogy, a new antagonist rises to prominence and starts waging a war of terror on the land. Despite the fact that stopping this antagonist is what 50% of the body of The Last Mortal Bond is devoted to, he has literally a single line of dialogue in the entire book and the only time that is spent with him is from extreme distances, while he stands menacingly on hills. This does not make a compelling villain, at all. In addition, The Last Mortal Bond, and the trilogy as a whole, spends a lot of time building to some final climactic moments – that horribly underdeliver. One in particular, where a major fight between two major established characters, happens just off screen (literally down a hallway from the POV because she stopped to tie her shoes), actually made me angry. I read thousands of pages to see them fight and it was a massive let down. Finally, the Unhewn Throne feels almost like a murder mystery for most of the series – making you guess at what is actually going on. I did not find the reveal to be particularly impressive, especially in light of how inventive and creative Staveley has proven himself to be.

In the end, The Last Mortal Bond disappointed me heavily. I had high expectations for this novel, but with The Last Mortal Bond I felt like Staveley and I were simply not on the same page. In addition, based on how quickly lots of plot points were wrapped up I got the unpleasant feeling that Staveley simply had gotten tired of writing it. The Last Mortal Bond has been getting stellar reviews since its release, and I am incredibly glad others are enjoying it as I like Staveley’s work. However, for me the finale of The Unhewn Throne was a miss and I hope that I will enjoy Staveley’s next work as much as I enjoyed his debut.

Rating: The Last Mortal Bond – 5.0/10

Children of Earth and Sky – A Quiet and Ponderous Story

25332566Reviewing a Guy Gavriel Kay book is a tricky thing. The reason for this is when I review a Kay book, I am not assessing whether or not it is good, but more how it stands in comparison to the rest of his work. If you want to know if Children of Earth and Sky is worth reading, the answer is yes it is. I firmly believe that Kay has never written a book that isn’t worth reading, and this will probably hold true for all his work to come. But how does Children of Earth and Sky stack up to works such as Tigana, Under Heaven, and Sailing to Sarantium? Read on and find out.

Children of Earth and Sky is a story set in the same universe as the Sailing to Sarantium duology, but after an enormous amount of time has passed. The story takes place after Sarantium’s fall to a horde of conquerors (presumably representing Attila the Hun and his conquest of Constantinople). The book follows five main points of view, and a few minor ones, of spies hailing from different city states as they all conduct spycraft for their countries in different ways. There is a painter, a nun, a merchant, and two warriors who all pursue different agendas for different parties. What I found most interesting is that Children of Earth and Sky focuses much more on the individual POV’s than the political parties behind them. While Kay always tells the story of the person not the people, this story seemed to focus more than usual on the lives of the characters more than greater happenings in their nations.

The first thing I will say about Children is that it had the fastest introduction out of any Kay novel I have read. It usually takes a while for me to fully immerse myself in a Kay novel, but with Children is was easy to dive right in and feel invested in the various point-of-views. Each of the characters is someone undergoing massive change in their lives and thinking about their future, and I cannot imagine a reader not being able to relate deeply to at least one of them. The writing, as always with Kay, is absolutely gorgeous with some of the best prose around. I also think this is one of Kay’s most fast-paced books (which is like saying you have found a particularly fast turtle). With so many POVs, you tend to get bounced around from one exciting event to another. Despite the numerous POVs, I felt that each individual character got a very full and fleshed out story.

However, due to the number of POVs, transitions can sometimes be very jarring and confusing. I said there were five major perspectives, but honestly there were more like eight as we spend a lot of time in the minds of the leaders of city states in the story. In the end I do not think this plethora of characters detracted from the storytelling, but it did slow down the pace of the book considerably. On the other hand, this slower pacing allows you to really get the feel for the characters and come to know them. One thing I did not like was the enormous amount of nods to Sarantium in the novel. I was looking forward to a few references but the sheer quantity was overwhelming. By the end, I felt like you would have had to read Sailing to Sarantium and The Lord Emperor to fully appreciate Children of Earth and Sky.

Like all Kay books, it has taken me a long time after completion to understand how I felt about it. Children did not excite and thrill me, inspiring me to read in every second of spare time. Instead, Children is a slow and contemplative piece of work that will make you think about many of its scenes and ideas long after you complete it. On this note, I feel as though the messages in Children of Earth and Sky are much more subtle and quietly spoken than Kay’s other books. This is a book that I think could be read several times and you would find more hidden in its pages every time. While I do not think this is Kay’s best novel, I certainly think it is in his top five and is a book anyone can enjoy.

Rating: Children of Earth and Sky – 9.0/10

Perspectives On Worldbuilding

This month I had the opportunity to go to a lovely event by the Aspen Institute in NYC on fantasy worldbuilding. At the event, three impressive authors (Hannah Tinti, Mark Tompkins, and Lev Grossman) all talked about how they go about world building and what works best for their method. While there, I managed to take some notes about each individual author’s style and write down some of their insight as I think it bears repeating for authors and readers alike. Below are some of their comments and ideas by author.

Hannah Tinti – author of The Good Thief

  • I like to work backward from an ending and ask “What do you need?”. To me it’s always about the spectacular finale and then building the steps I need to get there.
  • Think of it as making a recipe for a delicious meal. There are key elements you need at each part of the story to be mixed with different techniques to get your final product to come out how you want it.
  • The biggest enemy of a writer’s world is boredom. I like to follow the steps I lay out earlier and then take measures to make sure to combat boredom at every step of the way. If you are bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it.
    • When I need to alleviate boredom, I like to ask “What is the single most unexpected thing that can happen right now?”.
    • This often has elements of randomness in it that can be hard to explain, but after coming up with an idea the challenge then becomes how to execute it while still staying within the realm of believability.

Mark Tompkin – author of The Last Days of Magic

  • As I work mostly in historical fiction, my starting point is often “what if a legend/myth were true?”
  • From this starting point I like to delicately map out how truth in legend would change history and the trickle down effects of certain fantastical events. Sometimes the change can be negligible or minor, other times it can alter the course of history.
  • The beautiful thing about history is that in some places there are these gaps of time where we have little to know record that you can fill with whatever fills your imagination. It is much easier to work with because there is not text to point to and say “that’s not how it happened”.
  • Look through actual history for interesting plot points. History reads like a really weird book with strange twists and turns and often times what actually happened doesn’t make complete sense.
  • A large part of building a world and magic is not defining what your characters can do, as much as it is what they can’t. Limitations on powers and magic lend credibility to worlds and make them more believable, and it establishes boundaries so readers do not feel like you pull twists out of a hat.
  • A beautiful, but lazy, element of writing is that readers will do a lot of the work for you. You do not need to be exacting and precise with every description of everything, as in many cases readers are more than willing to fill in the detail for you and ascribe the credit to you. You just need to make sure you give them enough to do so.
  • These days you can count on your audience to be readers of fantasy and to have a certain amount of fantasy of works behind them that they have read. This allows you to use tropes if you want to to flesh out your world. New writers have it easy as each year the average fantasy reader has a deeper pool of knowledge to pull from.

Lev Grossman – author of The Magicians

  • As Mark said, when building a world it is more about what can’t you do than what can you. Where are the boundaries and how do you keep surprising readers without ever breaking the rules you establish.
  • My inspiration for fantasy was Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell as it truly shows that you can achieve great work while writing in the fantasy genre.
  • For me, it is about making fantasy as real as possible. It is about blurring the line between fiction and fantasy and creating a work that is hard to classify in either.
  • I use lessons I learn from modernist writers in the fiction genre and a transplant their ideas to the fantasy to make something different.
  • It is about using tiny details as building blocks to create a larger and more impressive world. Start with the small things and let them build momentum until your world is living and breathing.
  • The reader is the actual world builder. They are going to do the work of assembling your world in their head. Your job as the writer is simply to supply them with the best building material possible and to give them a blueprint they can follow so their end result has the functionality you need for your story.
  • My personal style is to take fantasy that already exists, like Narnia, and inflect, alter, and degrade it until I get something completely new.
  • My personal favorite is to take existing material that is pure, and add a new element to see how it changes. For example, I was very curious to see how adding “fuck” as a word my characters said changed the impact of a fantasy story, and I loved the new result that emerged.
  • Another thing I love to explore in my worldbuilding is the existence of pop culture within pop culture. It always struck me as strange that Harry Potter was stuck in a staircase for a decade and didn’t read any fantasy books for escapism. No one would enjoy reading a Harry Potter book more than Harry Potter.
  • Everything doesn’t have to make perfect sense, you are writing fantasy, you just need to make sure you rationalize it on some level to your reader.
  • Books are not like a movie where you have a scene where you can see everything. Books are more like a man in a dark room with a flashlight. You can only see a very narrow scope at any one time, and you need to make sure that what is illuminated is compelling and makes sense to tell the full story.

The Bloodsounder’s Arc – One Scribe’s Journey

A little while ago I was contacted by the relatively new author, Jeff Salyards. He has seen some of the reviews I had done, including my post about The Black Company, and wanted to know if I was interested in reading his debut trilogy, the Bloodsounder’s Arc. Salyards described it as a modern Black Company, and I am always looking for new authors to review. He generously sent me some copies in exchange for my unbiased review. Recently, I have finally had a chance to read his books and the time has come to write the aforementioned review. When an author goes out of his way to send you copies of his books at great personal cost, it motivates you to want to focus on the good and ignore the bad in an effort to repay them. However, I want to be as unbiased as possible so I swore I would be completely honest, even if the books were terrible. Luckily for me, that was not an issue as the books are great…mostly.

Before we get into the pros and cons of the individual books, let’s talk about the plot. The Bloodsounder’s Arc does indeed follow in the footsteps of The Black Company, as it follows the story of a young archivist, Arkamundos or Arki, who is hired by a foreign mercenary company to chronicle their journey. The book sticks with the archivist’s singular POV and there is some emphasis on the unreliable narrator, just as in The Black Company, where you only know what the archivist knows (which is almost nothing). The three books chronicle a single journey and slowly expands the scope and complexity of the world as the archivist learns more about what’s going on. While this is very much in line with The Black Company, that is where the similarities end and the Bloodsounder’s Arc starts to differentiate itself. Instead of a commentary on war, the books focus on the personal growth and evolution of Arki, as well as a whole lot of well done political intrigue, as the mercenary company fights to claim their empire’s throne.

13279692Book one, Scourge of the Betrayer, is by far the shortest book and focuses on the introduction of the cast, the building of the world, and the opening moves in a long political chess match. Unfortunately, book one is where most of my problems with the series as a whole occurred. The book’s prose was occasionally redundant or awkward, making scenes less impactful. There were plot points that, while completely explained in later books, were confusing and unclear when seen alone in book one. In addition, there were a few scenes that were overly graphic and were a little much for me to read. Finally, while the book used many of The Black Company’s’ best qualities, it also took its worst; the terrible formatting on the first novel. It is not enjoyable to read a multi hundred page book that only has three chapters. I don’t like having to awkwardly break in the middle of a scene because I have something I need to do.

17318676Despite all my complaints, I actually enjoyed Scourge of the Betrayer quite a bit. The characters were memorable and fun, but fairly shallow. The political intrigue was masterfully done in the first book, and only got better. Salyards does an excellent job of creating an oppressive and disheartening atmosphere as these soldiers stumble from one disaster to another, and I ended up really enjoying the world and plot. Also, most of my initial problems with The Scourge of the Betrayer were honest problems that are very common with debut books. Knowing this, I dove straight into book two, Veil of the Deserters, to see if Salyards improved his writing.

And he did, a lot. Salyards addressed almost every single issue I had with book one and improved his overall writing quality noticeably with Veil of the Deserters. Book two sees the cast increase in size, and adds a lot more depth to each character including some strong female leads that I was a huge fan of. The prose reads much more clearly, though is still what I would consider the weakest aspect of the book, and there are no confusing plot points that feel they are missing an explanation. While The Scourge of the Betrayer serves as an introduction, Veil of the Deserters feels much more fleshed out and complete. Salyards demonstrates an impressive ability to provide you with just enough information so that you don’t feel in the dark, but are always demanding more. The twists/reveals get more exciting, a magical system is introduced that is original and fascinating, there is very noticeable character growth, and my opinion quickly went from “I am reasonably curious as to what happens next” to “where the hell did I put book three”.

25159315Speaking of book three, Chains of the Heretic is even better. Coming out of book two I was amazed at Salyards’s improvement in writing quality, but thought he still had some room to grow. In Chains of the Heretic, Salyards continues to show that he is continually improving and evolving. The prose of book three is clean and beautiful, not wasting time nor space like it did on occasion in previous novels. The plot continues to escalate in the final novel, nicely bringing the story to a crisis that combines all previous plot points in the story. The ending is well executed and extremely satisfying, while also leaving a large space for Salyards to write more novels in the world if he wanted to. I have seen other reviewers talk about how Chains of the Heretic was the grittiest or edgiest of the trilogy, but I actually don’t agree with that assessment. My favorite aspect of Chains of the Heretic is that I think Salyards achieves incredible humanization of his characters, much more so than his previous novels, and while their stories are dark and tragic they still feel real and relatable. In previous novels, I feel that there were instances of events being over the top, but book three finds the perfect middle ground between tragedy and believability.

The Bloodsounder’s Arc was honestly a lot better than I expected, and did a beautiful job both honoring the style of The Black Company and also creating something completely original. Salyards has shown that he learns from past mistakes and improves on his strengths with each novel, and has identified himself as a rising talent in fantasy. I will be on the look out for his next novels, and if you haven’t gotten the chance to read the Bloodsounder’s Arc, it is worth adding to your to-do list.

Ratings:

Scourge of the Betrayer – 6.5/10
Veil of the Deserters – 8.0/10
Chains of the Heretic – 8.5/10

The Divine Cities – An Interview With Robert J Bennett

Recently I had the pleasure to read the fantastic novel City of Blades by Robert J Bennett. The review can be found here but the short story is that the book managed to surpass expectations and live up to the quality established by the first novel in the trilogy, City of Stairs. In the wake of finishing the book, I managed to corner Robert J Bennett and ask him some questions both about the series as a whole, City of Blades, and the upcoming final book City of Miracles. While City of Miracles is awhile off, our discussion only served to raise my anticipation. Enjoy!

It seemed like just about every character in City of Blade were living examples of different ways people can respond to experiencing trauma. Some of the characters seemed to pick better or worse methods to deal with their pain but no one seemed particularly healthy. Do you have a character who you think handled it best without giving away too many spoilers?

Not really. I think the success of dealing with trauma is one of those things that is tremendously hard to quantify or qualify. I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist in any way, nor do I have any background in mental health of any kind, but for the world of THE DIVINE CITIES, trauma is ever-present and undeniable both for the people and the cultures. It’s almost a physical part of the landscape, in some ways.

So I don’t think that, for these stories, there’s any approach you can take that can just make the historical trauma go away, or offset it, or negate it. For these people and these places, this trauma will always be there. I think the hard part is accepting that it is trauma, that it is pain – that the things that happened to them actually happened. These people will always have their pain be a part of them. The question is whether they will allow it to define them. They can grow to be something more than their pain and their scars. But that pain is not going away.

It seems as if technology is continuing to progress at a rather rapid pace both in Saypur and on the Continent. Do you plan to continue with this pace of development in City of Miracles, or do we have a good sense for where the technology of the times is at the end of City of Blades?

Yes. The next book, City of Miracles, takes place 13 years after City of Blades, so quite a bit has changed in that period. The entire series takes place over the course of about twenty years, so to put it in a more familiar context, the characters are going from a culture with the technologies of 1910 and advancing to those of about 1930 or so. This is part of an ongoing theme in the story: the idea of cultures in flux, and how cultures deal with huge shifts in power – which technology, or dead gods, tend to bring about.

Not many fantasy authors choose an older, retired, amputee as their main character. What made you decide to focus on Mulaghesh in City of Blades, and how do we get other authors to see the light?

When I wrote her for the first time in City of Stairs she was just a ton of fun, and when it came time to write the next installment in this world, it seemed inevitable that it’d be her. She, Sigrud, and Shara all form something of a triad in City of Stairs, so we get to follow them throughout the world’s evolution. Mulaghesh was the right character for this one, because while Shara intends to propose change in Stairs, it would be Mulaghesh who would be the executor of that change.

But it was also just an interesting idea for me. The older I get, the less interested I am in youth. I wanted to write someone upper-middle aged – the period at which a person tends to have the most influence – and look at someone with a lot of experiences and a lot of regrets, someone who’d believed things and had those beliefs get challenged and was still trying to figure it all out. It’s something of a John le Carre trope – the melancholy romanticism of the aging field operative. Old enough to have learned a sort of desperate compassion, but not quite so old that it’s been ground out of them. Except he usually writes about men, not women.

What was your inspiration for the books, or more specifically what inspired you to write a tale about the aftermath of oppressor’s becoming the oppressed by their former colonies, and the guilt that comes from both sides?

I was vacuuming at the house one day – I tend to have my best ideas when cleaning house – and Prisoner of Zenda was on the TV on TCM. It’s a fun adventure tale about a British man who goes on vacation to the fictional European country of Ruritania, where he happens to have a strong resemblance to the king, and hijinks ensue. Anyway, I was vacuuming, and I thought, “I bet it’d be very difficult to be an ambassador to a balkanized, fractured place like that, where every region has their own rules” – and that made me think.

So I thought, “Okay. So we have an ambassador to this country – Eastern European, maybe, very male, very macho, very stark, very dour, lots of furs and horns on the walls and so on. What sort of ambassador would most clash with them? Who would be the most out of place, as an ambassador?” And I just thought, “Well, naturally, a highly educated, Southeast Asian woman.” And I don’t really know why, but that just seemed to work.

But then I thought, “Okay. So. These fictional nations. They don’t like this ambassador. They can’t like her, of course, because that’s boring. But they can’t just dislike her because of who or what she is. What greater reason can there be?”

And the answer came back, right away, “Because her country killed all their gods.”

And that was that.

You touch on a wide variety of topics on twitter. I’ve noticed over time that these occasionally find their way into your books. Are there any topics you are yet to explore in depth that you’d like to?

Almost all of the wonkish things that I really want to talk about in conversation are naturally the things that get cut in my books. I touch on it very occasionally, but only when it’s plot-relevant, which, to be frank, it rarely is. I’d love to describe in detail how an at-large electoral system can lead to wild inequality, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t produce any cinematic explosions.

We’ve heard so much about Saypur through characters reminiscing, but have seen very little of it so far. Will we get a chance to see Saypur “in person” so to speak?

Yep. In City of Miracles, Sigrud gets to swing by Ghaladesh, as well as Shara’s ancestral estate. It does not go well.

Your original creatures are incredible and a highlight for me in your novels. Is there anything that influences their creation or do you just pull them from thin air?

I just make ’em up. Usually I try to make it so that their nature or behavior is thematically appropriate – the appearance of the sentinels, for example, accentuates that their entire being is now devoted to hostility.

When writing The Divine Cities series, did you plan out the entire story at the start or have you been writing them as they come? You have mentioned that this is the last book in the trilogy, but is it the last book in the world? Do you know what you are doing next yet?

It’s probably the last book in the world, for the foreseeable future. Most of this has been unplanned. Blades and Miracles were planned side by side much closer than either was to Stairs. I sort of think of it as having one child, then waiting about five years or so, and then having twins. They are all related, but two of them are much more entangled.

At the same time, though, Miracles is proving to really be more in conversation with the first two books than I’d anticipated. A lot of minor characters from Stairs become major characters in this one.

What other fantasy writers, if any. have been influential on your work? What are some of your favorite fantasy novels?

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was the book that most influenced Stairs: this idea of a lost era, wherein the impossible was possible, only no one really understands how it worked anymore – that was a real influence on me. Beyond that, I have a few fantasy novels that I’ve loved as a young person, but when I revisit them, I’ve found them somewhat wanting. I’d rather leave my good memories intact rather than spoil them.

The concept of personal choice and responsibility comes up time and time again in your novels. Along those lines, if you could have one superpower what would it be?

I bet I could get a lot of crucial legislation passed if I had mind control powers, or something similar to what Kilgrave had in Jessica Jones. Only instead of, like, raping women, I would use it to get a carbon tax.