08.08.19 / Gollancz / Fantasy / Paperback / 496pp / 978-1473225213
Target Audience: Fantasy readers who like full scale rebellions, badass coming-of-age stories, gruesome and brutal set pieces and clever writing. Those looking to invest in a series that will see many dark times before we see the light at the end. Not for the squeamish but will grip those who read it with its explosive and unpredictable nature.
About Mike Shackle
Originally from London, Mike Shackle has called Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, New York and Dubai his home over the years before settling down with his family in Vancouver. In that time, he’s sold washing machines, cooked for royalty, designed a few logos, and made a lot of ads. Ideally, he’s happiest day dreaming over a cup of tea.
About We Are The Dead
The first book in The Last War series: a debut epic fantasy full of crunching revolutionary action, twisted magic, and hard choices in dark times.
The war is over. The enemy won.
Jia’s people learned the hard way that there are no second chances. The Egril, their ancient enemy, struck with magic so devastating that Jia’s armies were wiped out. Now terror reigns in the streets, and friend turns on friend just to live another day.
Somehow Tinnstra – a deserter, a failure, nothing but a coward – survived. She wants no more than to hide from the chaos.
But dragged into a desperate plot to retake Jia, surrounded by people willing to do anything to win the fight, this time Tinnstra will need to do more than hide.
If Jia is to get a second chance after all, this time she will need to be a hero.
Mike Shackle Q&A
Thank you Mike for taking some time to answer a few questions about your debut fantasy novel, We Are The Dead. Could you give us your own personal overview of what readers should expect in the book?
WE ARE THE DEAD is a heart-warming tale of what happens when the bad guys win and there aren’t any heroes waiting to ride over the horizon to save the day. It’s about ordinary people caught up in awful times, trying to do what they think is right and survive the best way they can. It’s full of crunching revolutionary action, twisted magic, and hard choices in dark times.
Where did your initial inspiration We Are The Dead come from?
Lots of things fed into WATD; Akira Kurosawa, Remembrance Day, David Bowie, U2, Inglorious Basterds, the state of the world, a bit of Jack Kirby, some mad scientists, maybe a touch of Abercrombie too. The title was taken from a haunting poem about World War I called In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, a Canadian Army Officer. Part of it reads:
“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.”
It really resonated with me. We can have a tendency to romanticise war when really, it’s an awful thing that churns up innocent lives until one side outkills the other. Politicians rattle their sabres and seem happy to send soldiers off to fight but they always stay a million miles away from danger themselves. I wanted to explore the effect war has on ordinary people and how such extreme situations can change us in terrible ways.
How does it feel to be compared to David Gemmell, Quentin Tarantino and Brandon Sanderson?
I must admit to doing a happy dance when I read those reviews. It’s about as flattering as it gets but I’m just excited that my book will be on a bookshelf near Brandon Sanderson.
Could you give us some insights into the main cast and what they face in this story?
TINNSTRA is the daughter of a famous Shulka warrior and everyone expects her to follow in his footsteps. The trouble is she’s an absolute coward and runs at the first sign of the invasion by the monstrous Egril. She’s not the person you’d really want to save the world — except life never works out the way you want.
DREN is a 16-year-old who saw his parents die in the invasion and is full of anger and hate towards everyone. He is mayhem and chaos personified and may the gods help you if you get in his way.
JAX is a Shulka general who was on the front line of the invasion. He lost his arm and his pride during that battle and his son, KAINE, broke his back. They now lead the Hanran — the Resistance — but it’s a war Jax doesn’t really understand.
YAS is a single mother, trying to get by. She takes a job working for the Egril so she can have some money to buy food for her son. Unfortunately, the Hanran need her to do a bit of spying for them and they won’t take no for an answer.
Why is now the right time for a novel like We Are The Dead and what sets it apart from other fantasy novels coming out in 2019?
We’re all used to fantasy books where the big bad king appears and send his forces against the good guys and, somehow, the good guys will win; Frodo destroys the ring, Arlen wipes out the demons in the Core and Logan Ninefingers does his thing. I hadn’t read anything where the big bad wins (because these days, in the real world, it does seem like the bad guys are winning) and I wanted to explore where we can find hope still in a situation like that.
How would you describe the tone and atmosphere of We Are The Dead?
It’s grim in places. It’s very dark. It’s full of bad choices in no-win situations. It’s all that good stuff — but, at the heart of it, it’s a tale of hope and how people will overcome the worst when it comes down to it.
What was the most challenging parts of writing about magic, revolution and putting the fate of the land of Jia in the hands on an unlikely band of heroes?
Tinnstra was the hardest character to get right at first. She was a bit too much of your normal hero stereotype, full of witty retorts and a good right hook. But somehow, she just refused to do what I wanted her to do. She didn’t want to be the hero, bravely jumping into the fray. When I realised that, she became a joy to write.
How long did it take you to write We Are The Dead?
The first draft of WATD was completed in six months and then there was another six months of work off and on editing that before it went out on submission.
Is there a part of We Are The Dead that you are particularly proud of? Do you have a favourite quote you can share with us?
My favourite line is ‘War doesn’t care who it calls to fight.’ Because, when it comes, war will take the young, the beautiful, the brave, the scared, the new born, the old, and the infirm. There is no escaping it. No choice in it. The only thing most of us can do is run and try to survive.
Did you always have your eye set on being a writer/author and what sort of books did you grow up reading?
I grew up reading a lot. I must’ve driven my parents mad with the rate I devoured books and comic books. When I was ten or eleven, I was obsessed with Conan and Elric and all those wonderful tales. Then I stopped reading fantasy for a long time before stumbling across a collection of Drenai tales by David Gemmell. Then I discovered Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man and that was that. I was hooked again.
When I was younger, I wanted to draw comic books but I was never good enough of an artist to do that seriously. I started writing seriously though about ten years ago as a bit of a stress relief from my day job in advertising.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
I draw still. Everything from superheroes to my favourite book characters to children’s stories. I have two young kids and my daughter, in particular, loves me drawing her having adventures.
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
I’ve just finished CROWFALL, the last book in the Raven’s Mark trilogy by Ed McDonald. It’s a brilliant end to a brilliant series. I also recommend MASTER OF SORROWS by Justin Call. And of course, PRIEST OF BONES by Peter McLean. So many good books out there at the moment.
Thank you Mike for leading us through what We Are The Dead is all about. Having finished the book, I realised I asked all the wrong questions but Mike was a champ anyway and has provided some excellent answers none the less. We Are The Dead is an outstanding fantasy novel, setting up a series that is going to take us all on a wild ride. I wrote probably the longest review I have ever written because of We Are The Dead but it is totally worth the effort. If rebellion, war, unlikely heroes and unrelenting brutality is your thing then you must read this book. If it isn’t then you should read it anyway. I have read so many glowing reviews and Mike deserves it. Enjoy the Q&A. Read my review here. Pick up a copy and get involved!