With Time’s Demon (paperback, Kindle), writer D.B. Jackson is presenting the middle book in his time travelling epic fantasy trilogy The Islevale Cycle. In the following email interview, he talks about how writing this book, and this series, hasn’t been easy, why his approach to traveling through time isn’t scientific, and the influence of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea on his story.
To begin, what is Time’s Demon about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the previous book in The Islevale Cycle, Time’s Children?
Time’s Demon is the middle book of The Islevale Cycle, a time travel / epic fantasy series. The series has a lot of moving parts, a lot of interwoven plot threads, but at its core, it tells the story of Tobias, a young time traveller — a Walker, as his kind are called — who Walks back in time to prevent a war. In this earlier time, though, his Sovereign is assassinated, the royal court is wiped out, and everyone in the royal family is killed except the Sovereign’s infant daughter, Sofya. Tobias has no choice but take on guardianship of the princess and protect her as they are pursued by assassins through this new mis-future. Tobias’s love from his own time, Mara, follows him back into the past, and the two of them attempt to re-establish Sofya’s claim to the throne. They are aided and hindered in this by a variety of characters, some human, some demons, or Ancients as they prefer to be called. All of this happens in the first book, Time’s Children.
In Time’s Demon, Tobias and Mara are on the run, and they seek allies for their cause. One of those allies is Droe, a Tirribin, or time demon. Like others of her kind, Droe feeds on human years and remains forever in child form. She is dangerous to most humans, but not to Walkers, with whom Tirribin share a certain affinity. But of course, there are complications: Droe is fascinated by human love — the emotion and the act — and she wishes to take adult form, which would change the very nature of who she is. And she is infatuated with Tobias, which makes her a threat to Mara.
Where did you get the idea for Time’s Demon, when in relation to writing Time’s Children did you come up with it, and how did the story evolve as you wrote it?
This has been a difficult series to plot out in advance, largely because time travel is so hard to write. Like, brain-exploding hard. I usually outline my books and series in advance. With these books I haven’t been able to do that. I’ve had to wing it as I write.
So, to answer your questions: I knew when I started Time’s Children that there would be a second book called Time’s Demon that would continue the story of my protagonists but focus on Droe’s role. And I knew that there would eventually be a third book, Time’s Assassin, which would focus on one of the killers pursuing Tobias and Mara. I knew the very basic outlines of the story: where it would go, where the story arc would ultimately end. But after that, it has been a process of discovery throughout. Time’s Demon had to be rewritten extensively after I completed the first draft. For that matter, so did Time’s Children. The rewrites were much more involved than with my past works, again because of that difficulty in outlining the plot. A lot of the evolution of the story happened in the moment, as I wrote, as I learned more and more about my characters and the nuances of their individual tales. I wouldn’t want to write all my books this way, it’s pretty stressful. But writing this series has been exciting and challenging. The struggle has been worth it. I think the books are better for having put me through so much.
As you said, Time’s Demon is a time travel / epic fantasy tale. But the time travel aspects make me think it’s more of a science fantasy story.
This is magical time travel. The devices my Walkers use in order to go back through time — they’re called chronofors — give the book a slight steampunk feel. And the level of technology for the world is analogous to the real-world Renaissance period.
I understand what you’re getting at with the question, but in this case, I don’t really see a science fiction element to the story. My magic system is logical and consistent, limited and costly, as I believe all magic systems should be. In all ways that matter, though, I see this as pure fantasy.
Gotcha. So when you were deciding how time travel would work in Time’s Children, did you base it on any specific fictional depictions, did you look into real scientific theories that might be applicable, or did you just make up your own rules?
I’m not smart enough to deal with quantum physics or relativity or any of the other scientific bases posited over the years for time travel. And, to be honest, I’ve never actually been a huge fan of time travel stories because I think they tend to have inconsistencies, internal contradictions that can doom them to collapse under the weight of their own flawed logic. For time travel in the Islevale books to do what I wanted it to, in the way I wanted, I had to create my own set of rules, my own system.
People are born with the ability to Walk. It manifests as they reach puberty. It requires a magically constructed device: the chronofor. Those who Walk have to pass through an airless hell, an assault on the senses called “the between.” Walkers can only go back in time and then return to their original present. They can’t access the future. And for every year they travel back through time, they age a year. When they Walk forward again to their own time, they age another year. So I left something out of my description of the plot. Tobias and Mara are both about fifteen years old. They Walk back fourteen years, and thus arrive in the past appearing to be nearly thirty years old. They are, essentially, children in the bodies of adults.
I’ve created my magical time travel in this way because time travel for an author can be a source of endless complication. Unlimited time travel would give characters an unlimited number of do-overs. No plot point would be permanent. So I came up with my own system that would severely limit the ability of Walkers to influence their world. There is only so much any one Walker can do, and Walkers are very rare.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that you feel were a big influence on Time’s Demon but not on Time’s Children? Or, really, anything else you’ve written?
I wouldn’t say that any literary influences shaped this book exclusively. By the time I started work on Time’s Demon, many of the rules of my world, and all of the stylistic and narrative elements of the series had been firmly established in Time’s Children.
But I do feel that the world building for the Islevale books generally owes a tremendous debt to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books. This is a world of islands and seas, of sea commerce and naval warfare. Even a quick glance at the map of Islevale that appears in each book will remind readers of Earthsea. I loved Le Guin’s books. I started Time’s Children well before her death last year and all along I intended my world to be an homage to hers.
I also feel, though, that part of what makes these books work is how different they are from anything else I’ve read. I wanted to do something new, something that would challenge me and also my readers. Time’s Demon — and in particular Droe’s character arc in this book — is as daring and innovative as anything I’ve ever written.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have an influence on Time’s Demon?
I suppose the one influence I can see from a non-literary source might be the later seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, when the gang’s interactions with demons intensifies and becomes more nuanced.
Now, as we’ve been discussing, Time’s Demon is the second book in The Islevale Cycle after Time’s Children, and that the third book is Time’s Assassin. Do you know when Time’s Assassin will be out?
I don’t know yet. I would imagine sometime early in 2020, assuming that the distance between it and Time’s Demon is similar to the gap between Time’s Children and Time’s Demon. But that’s merely a guess.
As you know, some people wait until every book in a series is available before reading any of them, and some then read all of the books in a row. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait to read this series?
A good question, but not an easy one to answer. Certainly — and this goes for all series that readers like — people should buy the books as they come out. Waiting to purchase until all the books are out is a great way to doom a series and prevent those last books from even being released.
But from a reading perspective, I think there is an argument to be made for reading them all in a binge. The stories are complicated. There are lots of plot threads, lots of characters to keep track of, lots of point of views. It might be easier to follow if read straight through, though Time’s Children and Time’s Demon both have synopses of past action, so readers will be reminded of the most salient plot points from the previous volumes.
What readers should really do is read the books as they come out, and then re-read the early books when all three are available. That’s how I handle my favorite sequences.
Earlier we talked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that had an influence on Time’s Demon. But has there been any interest in adapting either Time’s Demon or The Islevale Cycle as a whole into a movie, show, or game?
There hasn’t been any interest in media development yet, but frankly the series is still young. Only the first book is out, and it only came out in October 2018. It’s early.
Do you have a preference?
I would definitely prefer a TV series to a movie. These are complex novels; lots of moving parts. I think that sort of story lends itself to a multi-episode, multi-season approach.
Though I also think that a video game could be interesting. Walkers — and other sorts of Travelers — would have to train and learn their craft and then earn their Bound devices. Throw in some intrigue and some battles, magical and conventional, and you might have an interesting game.
So if Time’s Demon and The Islevale Cycle were going to be being made into a TV show, who would you like them to cast as Tobias and the other main roles?
For Tobias, I would probably choose Utkarsh Sharma, or maybe Rohan Mehra. And for Mara I would choose actor, Ankita Lokhande. Both my protagonists are people of color, and we’re fortunate today in that Bollywood is turning out a steady stream of enormously talented performers. By looks alone, these actors would be ideal. And I have no doubt that they could handle the roles.
Finally, if someone enjoys Time’s Demon, what similar novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for Time’s Assassin to come out?
Well, the novels aren’t that similar, but I always recommend the books of Guy Gavriel Kay to any reader of fantasy. He is a marvelous storyteller and his prose is gorgeous. In particular, I love Tigana, The Lions Of Al-Rassan and Under Heaven.