Earlier this year I reviewed Sebastien de Castell’s debut novel Traitor’s Blade. I really enjoyed this fun, adventure romp-style fantasy story. Today sees the release of the paperback of Traitor’s Blade and to celebrate that I asked Sebastien whether he’d be willing to do an interview. Lucky for me he said yes. So enjoy his answers and if you haven’t read it yet, afterwards go and get yourself a copy of Traitor’s Blade because it is immensely entertaining.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Sebastien de Castell?
I was one of those kids who read The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe as a child and was never able to quite convince himself that Narnia wasn’t a real place. I was off camping by myself one weekend when I was fifteen and read a book by Keith Tailor called Bard and decided that was the job for me – you know, travelling, performing, storytelling, and occasionally swinging a sword. Of course, you can’t be a bard anymore (and if you try you have to play non-stop traditional Celtic music which I like but I’ve always been more of a Beatles fan.) So since no one was hiring for the position of bard, I made up for it by doing everything from touring in a rock band to writing books to choreographing sword fights for theatre to…well, you get the idea.
How would you introduce people to the world of Tristia?
Imagine if Renaissance Italy became so corrupt that it stagnated and never entered the early-Modern period. Duels and trial-by-combat are everyday occurrences and while the various duchies and city-states retain their pomp and grandeur, they’ve slipped back into an almost feudal form of government. Every noble is a tyrant, every knight a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is the blade at your side. Imagine a country so corrupt that even the Gods and Saints are on the take. That’s Tristia.
If you had to choose either Falcio, Kest, or Brasti at your back in a fight who would you choose and why?
Brasti’s got the skill and speed with a bow that can take out a lot of opponents before they get too close, but then he’s a bit of a mess with a sword in close quarters. Kest, on the other hand, is both the finest swordsman and the best tactician in the Greatcoats, but he tends to get pessimistic about the odds and decide you’re likely to die anyway so you may as well resign yourself to it and go out with some flair. Falcio doesn’t have all the advantages of the other two, but he’d by far be the most bloody-minded and determined to keep you alive. So, really, he’s the one I’d want at my back.
Falcio’s ultimate nemesis, the Duchess Patriana, is just deliciously evil. How much fun was she to write?
I always hear about writers saying how much they love writing their villains, but I actually found Patriana difficult to write. On the surface she seems utterly evil, but in reality she represents the cold pragmatism that’s been used to excuse atrocities throughout history. She simply has the confidence to say it out loud. Frankly, she terrifies me.
I loved your fight scenes and thought they were really well done. How do you plan those out? Does your past as a fight choreographer play in to this as much as might be expected?
I’ve been asked to write a few articles about writing fight scenes recently and I suppose the simplest way I can describe the process is to think of the fight as a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. There has to be a theme to a fight, just as there is to a novel, otherwise it becomes nothing more than a recitation of movements. When I used to choreograph fight scenes for the stage I noticed that it was the expressions on the faces of the actors performing the fight that told the story – the blades were simply there to provide punctuation.
Traitor’s Blade has been out for about six months. Which fan reaction has surprised you the most so far?
I never expected that so many people have would such strong emotional connections to the characters. I didn’t know what the terms “squee” or “feels” meant before I started seeing people tweeting about Traitor’s Blade. I had to look them up. Also, I’m perpetually surprised by how many people say Kest is their favourite character.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
My two big loves are performing (which I do with a variety of bands) and travelling. When I get to travel, perform, and write books I’m happy. When I get to do those things and meet fans of the book I’m elated.
What’s next for you? Are you still working on book two or already at work on book three?
Book 2 is all wrapped up and with the publishers for editing. It was, by far, the hardest book I’ve ever written but I’m thrilled with the way it’s turned out. It’s a longer book than the first one, with more depth for Kest, Brasti, and Valiana, but it retains the pacing and style of book 1.
I’m working on book 3 right now and should be finished in a couple of months. It’s turning out to be both the most swashbuckly (if that were a word) and the darkest of the series.
In the meantime, I have a couple of other series in development. A noir-ish mystery series that’s a bit of Nancy Drew meets Chinatown, a fantasy series with a western flavour to it, and an urban fantasy with some nasty supernatural horror.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I just read The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. It’s technically a young adult dystopian novel but it reads like Huckleberry Finn meets 24 only much darker than you’d expect. It’s a very difficult book to put down and the whole trilogy is out so it’s a great one if you don’t mind your heart racing while you’re terrified for the characters and infuriated at the author.
I also finished reading NOS4A2 by Joe Hill which works almost in reverse. Despite being a horror novel, it’s very much about relationships and coming to grips with family. It gets dark and scary but at a much slower burn that I’d expect from horror.
I’m looking forward to reading Hawk, the latest in the Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust. His style was a big influence on me and I’ve always loved that character.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
Well, you’ll be happy to hear that we have a small room in our house which is our library. It’s organized by feel and nostalgia more than any logical system. Books that meant a lot to me in college are in one place whereas books I’m planning to read in the near future are in another. Books people gave me but I have no clue why have their own section as well. Finally, there’s a section for books that just make me happy when I stare at their covers. I’m always looking to find more books for that shelf.
Bio: 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, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.