While every fantasy video game owes a nod (and often more) to The Lord Of The Rings, so too do many fantasy novels owe a nod back to fantasy video games. Take A Blood Of Kings (Kindle, audiobook), the second book in Bryce O’Connor and Luke Chmilenko epic fantasy series, The Shattered Reigns which — in the following email interview — they say was influenced by the games in The Elder Scrolls series. Just not the same ones.
Bryce O’Connor, Luke Chmilenko
Let’s start with some background: What is The Shattered Reigns series about, and when and where do these novels take place?
Bryce: The Shattered Reigns follows the story of Declan Idrys, a former sellsword and mercenary to the throne of Viridian, as he discovers that the quaint world he lives in is not nearly as simple as he might assume. The likes of magic and dragons and the ancient dark elves are not as extinct as most thought, a truth Declan is rudely awakened to when he crosses paths with old horrors and beasts that should have been long dead.
Wow… Reading that back, it sounds way more generic than intended… There’s also sword-wielding dragons, smart-mouthed mages, and packs of half-man, half-animal creatures that will claw yours eyes out if you let them.
And then what is A Blood Of Kings about, plot-wise, and how does it connect to the first book, A Mark Of Kings?
Bryce: A Blood Of Kings picks up in the heartbeats following the ending of A Mark Of Kings, with the action picking up at light speed after Declan finds himself staring do the black, glossy sword of a woman he knows is just looking for a reason to kill him. He had his companions have just survived a vicious assault by the forces of the Endless Queen — the twisted villainess of our fantasy tail — and things are not looking good for any of them.
Where did you get the original idea for this series?
Bryce: Believe it or not, The Shattered Reigns is a reworking of a book I wrote in high school, which was in deeeesperate need of a thorough purge, redirection, and polishing. I can’t recall exactly where the concept came from, but honestly it’s likely the result of the same mechanism of most of my ideas personally: a conglomeration of the exposure to other creative works, ranging from books to anime to movies to video games. One can never have too much inspirational material circling through their head, in my opinion.
And then when in the process of writing A Mark Of Kings did you come up with the idea for A Blood Of Kings?
Bryce: Aha… Errr… As one of the most hardcore “discovery” writers that I know (a.k.a., a “pantser”), book two came about in leaps and bounds as I wrote it. I had some idea of the broad direction after wrapping book one, sure, but not much more than could fill a chapter or two, probably. I like the liberty of pivoting on a dime in my storytelling. It makes it much easier for me to adapt to new concepts and ideas as they come.
A Blood Of Kings sounds like it’s an epic fantasy story. Is that how you’d describe it?
Bryce: There are some elements of progression fantasy in the story, but only traces of it. Frankly, aside from those hints of building power in the characters, it’s about as “epic fantasy” as you can get.
Luke: The Shattered Reigns is definitely as epic fantasy as it gets for a series. Full of dragons, magic, and all that sword and sorcery goodness, there’s no better way to describe it.
Along with A Mark Of Kings and A Blood Of Kings, you two also co-wrote the Warformed novel Stormweaver: Iron Price, as well as other books on your own or with other people. Are there any writers who you think influenced A Blood Of Kings but not A Mark Of Kings or anything else you’ve written?
Bryce: Personally, yeah, but it would be hard to list them because of the nature of the book. A Mark Of Kings had a lot of its original roots from the book it was when I shelved it at 17. It got a rework, yeah, but the authors I was reading at the time definitely hammered in a great influence into the narrative. A Blood Of Kings, on the other hand, is a 2021 creation, so the likes of Brian Jacques and J.K. Rowling and the other authors of my childhood have been replaced by a conglomeration of other influences, mostly not even books.
Although there’s Brent Weeks. Yeah. Brent Weeks. Not so much for direct influence on the book, but for being the author who renewed my interest in writing seriously later in life.
Luke: That’s a good question and one that I’m afraid I’m not certain I can easily answer, as I am a very voracious reader but had literally no time at all to read for roughly the last year or so. Much like Bryce, I feel that my major influences of late are largely from non-reading sources. If I would have to put any author down, I would say Terry Mancour and his Spellmongerseries — which is absolutely fantastic and my own personal measure of what I feel epic fantasy should strive to be.
How about non-literary influences; was A Blood Of Kings influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because the aforementioned Stormweaver: Iron Price seems like it was inspired by the video game Metal Gear Rising, while Luke, your Ascend: Online books were clearly inspired by such fantasy MMOs as EverQuest and World Of Warcraft.
Bryce: The easy answer is always going to be The Elder Scrolls series. Morrowind was the first videogame I ever really fell in love with, and it has been a passion of mind ever since.
Luke: I am a big gamer in every regard so it’s nigh impossible for me list every source that is bubbling at the back of my mind for projects, but much like Bryce I’d have to give the majority of the credit to The Elder Scrolls series — in my case Oblivion and Skyrim. Both were games close to my heart and I always think of ways that I can capture their wonder (and the impression they left on me) in everything that I write.
As I mentioned, A Blood Of Kings marks your third collaboration. How is the work divided?
Bryce: Luke and I have a different take on collaboration than most, working with a “champion” and “support” system. One person champions the book (me, in this case) while the other acts as a support to the creation, be that as a sounding board for idea, plot development, editing, coordination of marketing, promotion, etc. etc. etc.
Luke: It’s a process that has worked extremely well for both us and also my other co-written projects. Every writer has their particular strengths and weaknesses, and this particular strategy lets us both focus on what we each excel at and allowing the project to be all the better for it in the end.
So Bryce, what was Luke’s big contribution to A Blood Of Kings?
Bryce: Luke helped me a lot with direction, in particular the path our main character was going to take as he developed his magic and abilities. It was super helpful in making Declan a developing character when he felt a little bland to me in the original book.
And Luke, same question for you about Bryce.
Luke: The worldbuilding and the creation / weaving in of its history. Because he already had a very clear vision in mind for this series when we originally started working together, we were able to fly past the “stage setting” process of writing a book and get right into the story itself, which was really fantastic for me — since I really tend to get bogged down in the details during this stage on my own.
As we’ve been discussing, A Blood Of Kings is the second book of The Shattered Reigns. Is this an ongoing series or is it a set number of books like Game Of Thrones?
Luke: At the moment, this is an ongoing series as we flesh out the story and essentially “see where it goes” with the current plot arc that we’ve planned out. Our goal at the moment finish it off and tell the most complete story we can with what we’ve set up so far. Once we are at that point, we will see if there is enough reader interest to expand the series for another story arc, or to wind things down and provide a satisfying end to our characters and series.
Part of our reasoning for this strategy is to make sure that we never overstay our welcome so to speak with our readers and let our story grow stale, but to also have some wiggle room to provide more if the excitement and interest is there.
So, how many books are you thinking there will be?
Luke: At our current plan we are looking at four books total — so two more — to round out our current story arc, and it’s our hope to have the next two out soon as well, with the third book to follow next year, and the forth book the year after.
Now, as is often the case, A Blood Of Kings is not just available digitally, there’s also an audiobook edition. What’s interesting is that it’s read by the same person who did the audiobook for A Mark Of Kings, Nick Podehl. How did you come to work with Nick on these audiobooks?
Luke: Both Bryce and I were long fans of Nick, Bryce from his work on The Kingkiller Chronicles and Kel Kade’s King’s Dark Tidings, and me from his work on Cosimo Yap’s The Gam3. But Bryce in particular was the one responsible for in convincing Nick to work with us, and it’s been nothing short of fantastic. Nick’s voice and storytelling ability, to be able to bring the characters to life is just brilliant, and worked wonders for our story.
Did Nick do anything for the audiobook of A Mark Of Kings that made you change something in A Blood Of Kings?
Bryce: Yeah, he brought it to life. You haven’t experienced a book until you’ve heard it rendered by a top narrator, and Nick is absolutely one of the best in the business.
Luke: I have to echo Bryce here. Nick elevates everything he reads to another level, making it leap off the page in a way that few could match. We are absolutely ecstatic that we were able to partner with him for this series.
Earlier I asked if A Blood Of Kings had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But has there been any interest in turning this series into a movie, show, or game?
Cool. What can you tell us?
Bryce: Absolutely nothing. NDAs are not a thing you mess with in this industry.
No they are not. But speaking hypothetically, if someone was going to adapt The Shattered Reign novels, what format do you think would work best?
Luke: With me in my current mindset of loving over the top magic and combat, I have to say an animated series would suit the story best. I feel that it would be the best way to truly get into the fantasy elements of the story without mixing too much CGI on top of a live action production.
Bryce: I think The Shattered Reign would be best as a TV show, personally, or a Castlevania-like animated series. As for casting…Henry Cavil is already a rocking Geralt, so I think he’s too busy, but maybe I could convince Charlie Hunnam to give Declan a shot? I think he’d rock the roll.
Luke: Plus maybe we can pull in Charlize Theron for a certain behind-the-scenes antagonist…
Finally, I always like to end with some recommendations. So, Bryce, if someone enjoys A Blood Of Kings, which of Luke’s novels would you suggest they read next, and Luke, same question for you about Bryce’s oeuvre.
Bryce: Not particularly because of any relation to A Blood Of Kings (because they’re different genres), but any video game enthusiast needs to read Ascend: Online yesterday. It’s so much fun, and was the series that convinced me to reach out to Luke to collaborate on something. Lyrian is probably my all-time-favorite LitRPG character.
Luke: Fantasy is Bryce’s bread and butter, which means his Wings Of War series is the best place to start for anyone who loves A Blood Of Kings (and of course, dragons). I started reading this series long before I began writing, let alone had the opportunity to meet Bryce, and absolutely fell in love with the world and characters he created (Raz especially). If you’re fantasy reader, this series has to be on your bucket list. It’s that good.