Brian Staveley burst onto the SFF scene last year with his debut epic fantasy novel The Emperor’s Blades. It was a great first novel and one I enjoyed bunches. The second book in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne was released earlier this month and I’m currently almost finished with The Providence of Fire. I’ll be reviewing it tomorrow, but suffice it to say that unless Staveley stuffed it up in the final 75 or so pages, the book is even better than The Emperor’s Blades. But before I go back to finishing the book, I get to share an interview with the author with you. I’m pleased I was able to snare Brian Staveley for an Author Query and I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Brian Staveley?
My wife says, “Brian Staveley is the other guy who lives here.” Presumably the first guy is my son, but maybe there’s some other dude living in the attic or something.
How would you introduce people to the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne?
Often called the greatest novel ever written, it is at once an epic of the Napoleonic Wars, a philosophical study, and a celebration of the Russian spirit.
Sorry, that was plagiarized directly from Amazon’s description of War and Peace. The Unhewn Throne books have nothing to do with the Russian spirit. They follow three adult children of a murdered empire – a monk, a politician, and a special-forces soldier – who are trying to discover who murdered their father without getting murdered themselves. The second book, The Providence of Fire, sees the plot thicken (sort of a requirement for second books), but it also really complicates the relationships between these three siblings. Family is as much at the heart of the story as war, religion, or politics, although the books include all of those as well.
In your recent Rocket Talk interview you mentioned that each of your royal siblings has mastery of a specific thing: Kaden has mastery of his emotions, Valyn has mastery over physical prowess, and Adare is master of her intellect. Is there a sibling whose mastery you envy or that resembles your own?
I’m nowhere close to mastery on any of these fronts. Instead, I’d say I have just enough ability in each area to get myself into trouble. Sure, I say to myself, I can write this book in six months; I’m a smart guy, or, Of course I can get up and down that peak in a day; I’m fit. No need to bring extra water! This sort of thinking rarely works out well.
The Emperor’s Blades is very much a training story kind of book, especially for Kaden and Valyn. I’m a sucker for a good training montage, so I loved it. Will their training wheels be fully off in The Providence of Fire?
Absolutely. By the start of Providence, it’s time to hit the ground running or die. All three are out of their natural elements – I wanted to push them as far from their comfort zones as possible – and it’s not at all clear if what they’ve learned will be enough. That said, while training is over, the characters continue to develop in this book. In fact, I’d say they cover more psychological ground than they did in The Emperor’s Blades. Training is one thing; trying to put your training to use, something else entirely.
What, or perhaps who, did you enjoy most about writing The Providence of Fire?
Pyrre, the skullsworn assassin, and Nira, a half-crazed old woman that Adare meets in the course of her adventures. Both characters are quick-witted, irreverent, and tough enough not to take shit from anyone.
I was surprised to learn from your Rocket Talk interview that you hadn’t really been aware of the SFF community before publishing The Emperor’s Blades. What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about it in the past year?
I suppose I was aware that a community existed; I just wasn’t a part of it. I’ve been surprised by how much delightful contact I have with my fellow writers and readers. I signed up for twitter sort of dutifully – my agent had suggested it – but I’ve come to really enjoy the conversations that unfold there and elsewhere on line.
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
I’ll be at Phoenix Comicon this May, and Readercon, too. Maybe World Fantasy Con in November. There will be a reading tour, but we’ve pushed it into the summer because no one, including me, is all that eager to drive around the northeast in the middle of blizzards and ice storms. I’ll announce venues as it gets closer. I’m also hoping to but together another scavenger hunt, something along the lines of The Last Abbot, but with copies of The Providence of Fire instead.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Sometimes I think there’s too much; it’s hard to be really good at something if you’re excited about everything. Writing full time and working from home is really wonderful, but it takes discipline. I’m constantly tempted to spend time with my family, for instance – I have a toddler, and going adventuring with him and my wife is just about the best way to spend a day that I can think of. Then, of course, there are adventures of my own – things like skiing and rock climbing and adventure racing, all of which have taken a back seat over the past few years, but which I’m not willing to abandon. It’s easy to stay fit when you can train for two hours a day, but I don’t have anything like that luxury anymore. It means when I’m outside with my single friends I tend to be the one at the back of the pack huffing wind. Which is just fine by me – there are only so many hours in the day.
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 read a debut that I really loved recently: Last Song Before Night, by Ilana Myer, an epic fantasy filled with music and deceit. It’s coming out later this year. And I’m really looking forward to Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory. I haven’t read it yet, but I thought Bear’s work in the Eternal Sky trilogy was just jaw dropping. Finally, I’ve been looking forward to N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season for a long time.
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?
I have a very ingenious system. When we moved into this house three years ago, we had an infant with us. We threw the books from the boxes at the shelves, and that’s where they’ve stayed. You can find Dante next to Calvin and Hobbes, the Tao Te Ching next to Twilight. And by “can find,” I mean, “will never be able to find again.”
Bio: After more than a decade teaching history, religion, and philosophy, Brian decided to write books. He now lives on a steep dirt road in the hills of southern Vermont, where he divides his time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and exploring old trails. Stiff knees permitting, Brian also still competes in multi-day adventure races. While he hopes that participating in these gruelling events will give him insight into the physical and psychological suffering faced by his characters, it’s possible that he’s just too dumb to quit. To the dismay of his family, he also sometimes tries to play the banjo.