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?
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.
You 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?
The 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.
Great job! Sounds like a awesome book! Will definitely have to give it a try!
Joao and Stephan, thanks for the talk! Stephan, I love what you say about building your world here. It seems as if the characters do spring from a real place, a real culture with rules and history, not some generic “village at the edge of the forest” with the fostered orphan boy who turns out to be magical.
And now I will have to go find some dark ale to try.
Archetypes are fine, but characters that seem like real people are more rewarding. :)
There are lots of awesome dark ales out there, in the UK and abroad, Kozel dark is a great ale from the Czech Republic.
Thanks for the tip!
(US) Sounds really promising. Congratulations on getting published. I can’t imagine how amazing that must feel after 20 years of putting in the work.
You mention that you wanted Battlemage to read as a mix between old and new, and you’ve mentioned some of the genre classics that have influenced you. Any newer books that have had an impact on what you were trying to do with Battlemage?
Certainly lots of writers rather than specific books, some might just be through osmosis, some direct like Jim a Butcher and the Dresden Files, as the magic in the books is powerful but there is a rigid structure and rules. Some writers like JMS of Babylon 5 taught me about character, same with Joss Whedon. Lots of other writers have influenced me like King, Koontz, Abercrombie, Mike Carey and tonnes more.
Glad to see there’s an audio version. I’ll try it.
(UK) It has to be said that Yorkshire breweries (and Peak District breweries too!) are proper rock. I may be biased, but if you see Kelham Island on the bottle, you’re in for a good night. :)
I’ve had a few of those, they’re tasty!
(US) Interesting timing, a friend just mentioned this book the other day which put it on my radar. I like your influences especially the Clash of Titans, loved that movie growing up. Oh and I too prefer non-citrus pale ale.
I’ve had a few, from grapefruit to other kinds, and I just don’t like the clash of the bitter with the sweet. It’s just not for me!
(US) I would like to read this book. Character development is what makes me keep reading! Congratulations on your persistence. We readers are the winner.
Thank you Jean, I hope you enjoy it.
(US) I was excited when I saw this title last month. “Battlemage” made me instantly think of epic fireball flinging battles :P And from the reviews I’ve read, so far, this is a fun novel!
There are definitely some epic fireballs in this book!
(UK) A cracking interview (and I certainly agree with Mr Poore on his beer recommendations). Saw Battle Mage in my local Waterstones recently and it certainly piqued my interest. Very much my cup of tea.
I really like Riders of the Storm! A good beer.
sounds like a fun read, and one can see that based on that list of influences. I like the way the trilogy seems to be shaping up–wouldn’t mind seeing more authors going that route
(US) I already had this book on my to read list – based only on the title. I’ve read many books that contained people who could be considered ‘battle mages’ but they are almost always on the periphery, in aid of the main character and plot. Having that title indicates to me that those periphery characters are now front and center and more central to the plot. I approve.
Thanks for the interview. I can’t say I’ve ever tried a ‘Real Ale’ and am not even sure what that is. I’m always up for a tasting though!
The Battlemages are front and centre, definitely a big, big part of the story!
I think in the US you call them craft beers and craft breweries, so something that is not a nationally (or internationally) produced and recognised brand like Budweiser. It might only be locally available, or state wide, sometimes international to places like the UK as we get some craft beers from the US over here.
Ah, that makes sense now. Thanks!
Thanks for the interview.
I’m truly intrigued by your comments about the characters in Battle Mage. I hope I’ll get a chance to discover them.
Huge kudos to Stephen Aryan for being where he is now following 20 years of hard work, persistence and patience.
And last but not least: Where I live in Colorado, we have some great breweries producing excellent “Real Ale” :).
Thanks, it has been a long, long time coming to get here.
I look forward to sampling lots of real ale/craft beer next time I am over there in America!
(US) Characters are what really make a book for me, so I’m glad to hear that such great things about yours. I’m really excited about Battlemage, it sounds like everything I love in a book. I’m seconding the comments about originally being interested in the book based on title alone. Gotta love battle magic. Also, yes, ale!
Excellent. I wanted some big, loud, explosive magic. Not hidden away as if it’s something to be embarrassed about.
(UK) This looks awesome, and I also look forward to seeing the take in non-human races. Most fantasy characters are either human or human-kite.
The non-humans races are featured throughout the trilogy. They’re not orcs, or elves, or a clone of those, or something with a different name that is just an elf. I’ve tried to create something totally new and different and layered. And it’s fantasy, so, why not?
Andy Angel, you are the UK winner of Battlemage!
Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away.
Jean Hall, are are the US winner!
Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away.
Happy reading to both our winners!
Cheers, I’ve emailed you my address (hopefully! If the email doesn’t turn up please let me know and I’ll send it again