Now winding down his hectic promotion schedule, Stephen Aryan joins us at Fantasy Literature to talk about his debut fantasy novel, Battlemage, his literary influences, and to tease us about what may be in store for the sequel, Bloodmage.

Three random commenters, two with a US address and one with a UK address, will win a copy of Battlemage. Start your comment with (US) or (UK) according to where you live to enter the giveaway, and please welcome, Stephen Aryan!

João Eira: Hi Stephen, hope everything is going well. To start things off, could you say something about your path to publishing Battlemage, your debut, and how Battlemage came to be?

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Stephen Aryan

Stephen Aryan: Hello. Battlemage is the eighth or nine complete novel that I’ve written. It’s taken me pretty much twenty years to get here from the first time I submitted a novel to an agent. So that’s a lot of years of rejections, going to events and listening intently at panels, joining writing communities and many late nights editing my work. About five years ago I started writing Battlemage and two years ago in May 2013 I submitted an enquiry to an agent with the first few chapters of my novel. She wanted to see the full manuscript and we went from there together, editing the novel and beating it into shape before eventually submitting it to a publisher, Orbit, who bought the trilogy.

Battlemage was the kind of novel that I wanted to read that was a mix of old and new. I’ve tried to bring together the complexity of modern fantasy storytelling with some fantastical elements that are less common in the genre these days, such as overt magic and non-human races.

One of the aspects I quite enjoyed about Battlemage was that as the novel went on we got to see that the world as it is in the novel sits on top of a deep layer of history, particularly with the comings and goings of religions and their associated gods. How did you go about developing that aspect of the novel? How much of it is in the book versus how much you have detailed for your own purposes?

There’s very little on the page compared to what is in my head and written down in notebooks. I wanted to create a world that felt rich in history, culture and mythology. Part of that was working out the different countries, economies and geography of the world. Part of it was looking at the different races, and part of that was religion and politics. Growing up I was watching films like the 1981 Clash of the Titans, starring Harry Hamlin, and that kind of thing also fed into this book somewhere in the back of my head. A lot of things have gone into the melting pot over the years and the world also developed over quite a while.

sabmYou have noted in various other interviews that your main literary influence when it came to write Battlemage was David Gemmell. In what ways did his work influence how you approached Battlemage? What other authors do you think influenced you and in what way did that influence manifest itself in Battlemage?

In my opinion Gemmell’s greatest strength as a writer was his characters. He created people that felt real who found themselves in tough situations and they had to do their best. Long before anyone coined the phrase “Grimdark,” Gemmell was writing books about grey characters and antiheroes in fantasy. The language of his novels was also done in such a style that they were easy to read, and it was only later on in his career that he had a multiple volume series. There were novels that followed on from each other set in the same world, but they were not connected trilogies.

My approach is very similar. I have written in a style where hopefully language is not a barrier, the names of characters and places are not a barrier, and because it is a relatively self-contained story, you don’t need a glossary to remember character names. David Eddings was an early influence, because he had wizards doing amazing things with overt magic, but there were still limits on what they could achieve and a cost. Terry Brooks was also an influence as magic runs through all of his SHANNARA novels and there again, he began with novels that were connected, set in the same world, but were relatively standalone. I love the legacy aspect of his novels and how seeds planted early pay off sometimes even a few books down the line. He definitely rewards his long time readers and I’m trying to do a bit of that. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman with the original DRAGONLANCE novels, and the DEATHGATE CYCLE novels were early favourites, as they had a fairly diverse cast of great characters and lots of magic. Ursula Le Guin and her EARTHSEA books were another early influence as they appear simplistic, but there’s a lot going on and her delicate touch is something I aspire to achieve.

Interesting that you note Gemmell’s greatest strength to be his characters given what I am now about to ask you. I noted in my review of Battlemage that one of its strengths is how each character, primary or secondary, feels different from any other character and each is an interesting persons in their own right. What are your thoughts about characterization? Do the characters come to you as you write them or do you plan them beforehand?

Thank you. That’s very nice to hear. I try very hard to make the characters distinct. Some may fall into familiar archetypes, but hopefully they feel like real people and not just carbon copies of similar characters you’ve seen elsewhere. I plan ahead on everything, so I know going into any scene how someone will react as I spend a lot of time thinking about them and I’ve lived with the characters in Battlemage for years in my head.

Now moving onto the book proper. Balfruss notes that the world is entering a new dark age where magic users are fewer than they have ever been because of the disappearance of The Grey Council, and those that do survive their initial years without killing themselves in an accident will end up demonized by their neighbours. How many full-fledged Battlemages still exist in the world? Can the desert nations stave off that Dark Age given that those born with the ability there are not trained in the Red Tower? For example, were Finn to have been born in one of the desert nations, would he have fulfilled his potential as the strongest Battlemage alive?

I don’t want to put an exact number on it, but there are only a handful of what I would call Battlemages left in the whole world. However, Battlemage is merely one label for a very specific type of magic user. Pockets of different types of magic users still exist all over the world, which we see in the novel, from the First People to talk of wizards in the deserts kingdoms of the far east. Other nations view magic in a very different way to those trained at the Red Tower and have very different skills. As Balfruss mentions, Battlemages are shadows of what magic users were in the past as much has been lost. They’ve become weapons and nothing more, whereas there’s so much more you can do with magic. Who knows what might have happened to Finn if he had been properly trained from an early age. Well, I do, but I’m not telling!

That’s such a tease, Finn was one of the high points of the novel for me. Since we are talking about magic, does every race have access to the Source? Will we see Morrin Battlemages, or Vorga Battlemages?

The answer to your first question is yes, but not in a way you might imagine. Any more than that would be a spoiler, but this is something that is touched on and explored in the trilogy.

What can you tell us this far in advance about Bloodmage, the sequel to Battlemage? Is the title a hint of what type of magic we will start seeing? Will we get to know what happened with the Grey Council?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe trilogy is not what you might expect in terms of it being traditional. Battlemage is a fairly self-contained story and the other two books in the trilogy are in the same style, but that isn’t to say they’re not connected. Bloodmage is set a year after the first book and the main characters are not the same as those in Battlemage. Familiar faces are present, as it is set in the same world, but it is also a very different kind of story. Each book has dangling threads that are picked up in the next book, with the third book bringing a lot of different things together. So there are more easter eggs and pay-offs for those who have been reading since the beginning. I’m trying to reward long time readers but also make Bloodmage accessible to new readers.

Lastly, a question that’s become customary here at Fantasy Literature. Do you have a signature drink or favorite beverage?

I’m a big fan of real ale and a member of CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) so I’m always on the hunt for a nice dark ale or a light, non-citrus, pale ale. There are a few dark ales I really enjoy from some of the Yorkshire breweries. They’re just amazing.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, and we looking forward to know what’s in store for you.

Readers, remember to leave a comment on the section below and to start it with (US) or (UK) to win a copy of Stephen Aryan’s Battlemage.


  • João Eira

    JOÃO EIRA, one of our guests, is a student at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, one of the oldest universities in the world, where he studies Physics and Economics. Having spent his formative years living in the lush vistas of Middle Earth and the barren nothingness in a galaxy far far away, he has grown to love filling his decreasing empty bookshelf space with fantasy and science fiction books. For him a book’s utmost priority should be the story it is trying to tell, though he can forgive some mistakes if its characters are purposeful and the worldbuilding imaginative. A book with no story can have no redeeming quality though. João probably spends more time fantasizing about books than doing productive things.

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