This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
17.10.19 / Fantasy / Hot Key Books / Hardback / 528pp / 978-1471405495
About Sebastien De Castell
Sebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor and product strategist. His only defence against the charge of unbridled dilettantism is that he genuinely likes doing these things and that, in one way or another, each of these fields plays a role in his writing. He sternly resists the accusation of being a Renaissance Man in the hopes that more people will label him that way. Sebastien lives in Vancouver with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.
The sixth – and final – instalment of the inimitable SPELLSLINGER series.
The game of war is always rigged . . .
Kellen and Reichis are settling into their lives as protectors of the young queen. For the first time Kellen feels as if he’s becoming the kind of man that his mentor Ferius had wanted him to be. Even Reichis has come to appreciate having a noble purpose – so long as no one minds him committing the occasional act of theft from the royal treasury.
But thousands of miles away a war is brewing that the Argosi always warned could destroy the continent. An unexpected source brings word that there’s one way Kellen can prevent a hundred years of bloodshed, and all it requires is a little murder . . .
Now Kellen and his sister Shalla find themselves on opposite sides, and neither love nor loyalty can protect them from the choices they must make.
Perfect for fans of The Dark Tower, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy, Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.
Q&A with Sebastien De Castell
Thank you Sebastien for taking some time to answer a few questions about the last instalment of your incredibly popular Spellslinger series, Crownbreaker.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Could you give us your own personal overview of what readers should expect within the book?
Crownbreaker begins with Kellen, a former outlaw spellslinger, who has finally found a place in the world as tutor and protector to a queen whose decency is beyond doubt, being asked to commit a horrible crime to defend her throne. That very first question: would you do something terrible to protect someone you care about, only grows more and more complicated as Kellen uncovers a winding conspiracy meant to start a war that will reshape the continent. The people Kellen loves will either end up enslaved or in power, and it all comes down to just how far he’s willing to go and what atrocities he’s willing to commit.
Where did the initial inspiration for narrative, and Kellen, in the Spellslinger series come from?
When I was sixteen years old I was standing at my locker at school before the first bell. The halls were filled with people coming and going and as I watched them I started to realize something terrible: I wasn’t the strongest kid in my school. I wasn’t the smartest. There was no pursuit, not sports, not music, not anything, in which I was the most talented. I didn’t even have the best personality. Despite all the fantasy novels I’d read, all the comics and all the movies, it turned out I was not the chosen one. I had no grand destiny, no secret magic powers. I was ordinary. Luckily for me there were real-life Ferius Parfaxes around who – rather than placate my ego by assuring me I really was special – informed me that being special isn’t something you’re born with. You have to earn it by exploring yourself and finding all the little, interesting parts of your being, working hard to cultivate them until somehow they all coalesce together and make you someone worth knowing. That’s what Kellen goes through in Spellslinger, and his journey to becoming someone special, someone worth knowing, is what kept me wanting to write the books.
Could you give us a few more insights into what Kellen has to face during the events of Crownbreaker?
Crownbreaker is the culmination of everything that Kellen’s been discovering on his long journey since leaving his home and became an outlaw. It’s about the ways in which the quest for power – no matter how easily justified as necessary for the defence of one’s family or nation – can become twisted into the pursuit of war. It’s about competing notions of duty and loyalty, and how even something as basic and essential as the idea of family can put us at odds with our own values. In the end, it’s about how our answers to those questions reveal who we really are.
What was the most challenging part of writing the last book in a six book series and how do you feel now it is finished?
At first I thought the most challenging part of writing the last book would be wrapping up all the threads that wound their way through the rest of the series. But that turned out to be easy – dangerously easy, in fact. In this age of books, movies, and video games so often being driven by the notion of “fan service” – that is, giving the fans what we think they want – an author risks churning out the equivalent of their own fan fiction. Something about that felt wrong to me, not just because I had worked so hard to make Spellslinger a meaningful fantasy adventure and not just wish fulfilment, but because doling out endless convenient happy endings robs the reader of the chance to let their own imaginations take over once they turn the last page. So I had a lot of conversations with my editor about how things would turn out, which characters would return and what would happen to them and to Kellen. I feel really proud that we found the right balance between tying up the story in a satisfying way while also keeping the integrity of the characters and their journey.
How does it feel to be compared to Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaronovitch and the works of Stephen King and Marvel?
Such comparisons feel like huge and undeserved honours. They also happen to be things you have to make yourself ignore while writing. Nobody can replicate Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, or any of the others for that matter. Every author has to search inside themselves, their experiences, and their questions about the world to find something to put on the page that is genuinely theirs rather than simply a variation on some already successful work. On the other hand, if anyone’s asking, I’d be delighted to write the next Marvel blockbuster.
How did you come to be so passionate about fantasy and magic?
I came to fantasy the same way so many other readers do: out of a desire for the experience of wonders that can’t be found in everyday life. What changed when I became an author myself was that I realized the real challenge of fantasy is to write stories that don’t just offer a temporary escape from reality, but instead the desire to re-enchant our own world. I think that’s why it was so important to me that most of the real magic in the Spellslinger series is about very human things: music, dance, trickery, daring, love, and above all, friendship. Those are the spells that have brought genuine wonder into my life, and those are the things I’m passionate about exploring in my writing.
Over the course of six novels, what aspect of your writing do you think the readers have connected with the most?
I fear I may have created an entire market for those who long for genetic scientists to create the first talking squirrel cats. Alas, this would be a terrible idea; squirrel cats are definitely not meant to be pets.
The most interesting and unexpected result of having written the Spellslinger books are all the letters I get asking me about the Argosi. These readers want to know how it all works and how to become an Argosi themselves. What’s fascinating is that it’s not as if they’re confused about what’s real and what’s not, it’s just that, despite what reality television tells us, not everyone wants to be a famous celebrity or wealthy executive or sports star. I think what appeals to readers about the Argosi is the idea that each of us has a unique path that has to be discovered, pursued, and given a name by the individual.
That wasn’t something I’d intentionally set out to write as the series began, but was instead the answer I came up with to Kellen’s dilemma (and my own, frankly) of realizing he was never going to be the greatest mage or warrior or anything else, and that there had to be an alternative to forcing oneself into such categories.
Is there a part of Crownbreaker (or the series as a whole) that you are particularly proud of? Do you have a favourite quote you can share with us?
Whenever the advance copies of the books arrive at my house, I take one and stick it on the shelf next to the previous ones and just stare at them a while, kind of marvelling at the sight of them as I’m someone with a long history of not finishing things. There’s never been anything I worked so hard to get right than these novels, and with the Greatcoats series, which was about swashbuckling and idealism, and Spellslinger, which is about self-discovery, I fought hard to ensure every book was both entertaining and stayed true to the integrity of the characters.
How long did it take you to write Crownbreaker compared the other instalments?
When we first set out on the Spellslinger journey, my publishers and I agreed to a six-book series released every six months. That’s a pretty aggressive schedule, but it meant readers were never left having to wait too long between books. That said, the opening scene in Crownbreaker was literally the first thing I ever wrote with Kellen in it back when I was first exploring the idea of the series with a friend of mine. I think I wrote that scene back in 2011, so technically, Crownbreaker took eight years to write!
Did you always plan on Crownbreaker being the last book? Are you considering continuing the narrative in any way?
When you’re pitching a series, you have to come up with book titles and synopses to show there’s a proper arc to the overall story. That meant I had to come up with all these working titles and pretend descriptions for each book that I never really expected to follow. Oddly, all six books ended up pretty close to those initial, completely instinctive thoughts about what the books would be about.
As soon as the enigmatic Ferius Parfax and her wandering ways began to appear in print, I started getting letters from readers wanting to know more about the Argosi, their tricks, training, and philosophy. I realized then that I, too, wanted to take to the long roads with Ferius and find out more of those things that I had to keep out of the Spellslinger series. So I’m writing two books that answer those questions. Readers can expect Way of the Argosi and Fall of the Argosi to come out next year.
In terms of continuing Kellen’s story, it’s important to me that there be a reason to write more Spellslinger books beyond just racking up more sales. These six books were an exploration of what it means to find your place in the world when you discover you’re never going to become the person you thought you’d be, and nothing you believed about yourself or your people turns out to be true. Kellen was, for me, the perfect character to follow on that journey. So while I have loads of ideas for other books featuring my favourite outlaw spellslinger and his murderous squirrel cat business partner, I first need to allow myself a little time to find a new thematic landscape for them to travel.
Did you always have your eye set on being a writer/author and what sort of books did you grow up reading?
Like a lot of kids out there, my first exposure to fantasy was The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The Narnia books left a hunger in me for other worlds that never really went away. As a teenager I started reading what were sometimes called New Wave science fiction and fantasy authors like Roger Zelazny who wrote, among many other classics, Nine Princes in Amber, and Steven Brust, who still writes the Vlad Taltos series. What was most compelling for me about these authors was that they eschewed the old pseudo-Medieval style “thees” and “thous” in their writing, and instead borrowed more from the noir writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I think that’s why my own novels have always had some element of detective story embedded within the fantasy narrative.
Then when I was sixteen years old I was camping by myself on a little island off the coast of British Columbia. I read a book by the Australian author Keith Tailor called BARD and from that moment on I wanted to become a wandering, storytelling, sword-fighting musician. Such jobs rarely appear in the help wanted ads, so I kind of had to cobble it together over a lifetime of playing in bands, travelling everywhere I could, fencing, and now, of course, writing novels. So I got there eventually.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
I still perform in rock bands which is a great change of pace from writing. I love being on stage in front of an audience, creating music in the moment with other players, knowing you’ve only got those brief moments to either make the song come to life or have it fall flat. You can imagine how different that experience is from sitting alone in front of a computer screen pondering every word, knowing you’ll have as many drafts as you want to make it right.
My writing space also has a couple of keyboards and guitars right next to my desk, so often I’ll take a quick break from writing to just bumble along on the piano and loosen myself up before going back to the book. Music often informs my writing, shaping the emotional arcs of scenes and opening me up to different pacing choices. I’m not quite sure how I’d write without it.
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
For those who aspire to write their own novels – and I genuinely believe we all have at least one novel in us – pick up “Writing Into The Dark” by Dean Wesley Smith. This is a guy who’s written more than two hundred novels in his career and still loves doing it every day. Unlike so many craft books, Into The Dark focuses on trusting your own creative voice and letting it lead you where it may without fear, without ego. I grew up thinking I didn’t have the talent or drive to be a novelist because it always seemed like a pursuit meant only for those special souls who droned on and on about how writing was as essential to breathing for them. Me? I could breathe just fine without writing. And yet, when I finally allowed myself to try, to just go out there and write my first novel, it changed my life for the better long before I ever sold a single book.
CROWNBREAKER by Sebastien de Castell is out now in hardback (£12.99, Hot Key Books, Bonnier Books UK)