Exclusive Interview: “A Sleight Of Shadows” Author Kat Howard
Six years after launching the urban fantasy duology the Unseen World with 2017’s An Unkindness Of Magicians, writer Kat Howard is completing the saga with her new novel, A Sleight Of Shadows (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Howard discusses what inspired and influenced this second half, as well as why it’s the end of the story.
Photo Credit: Shane Leonard
For people who haven’t read the first book, An Unkindness Of Magicians, what is the Unseen World series about, and what kind of world is this story set in?
The Unseen World duology takes place in a New York City that is very like our own, but there is a hidden enclave of very rich and powerful magicians. An Unkindness Of Magicians covers the events of a magical tournament that culminates in duels to the death called the Turning and A Sleight Of Shadows covers the aftermath.
And then for people who have read An Unkindness Of Magicians, and can thus ignore me writing SPOILER ALERT, what is A Sleight Of Shadows about, and how does it connect, narratively and chronologically, to Unkindness?
A Sleight Of Shadows connects very directly both in terms of plot and time; you really do need to read the first book first. It picks up less than two months after the end of the Turning, and the characters and the world are still very much dealing with the fallout of previous events. And then — without spoiling anything — there are further complications.
When in relation to writing An Unkindness Of Magicians did you come up with the idea for A Sleight Of Shadows, and what inspired this second book’s plot?
I wrote An Unkindness Of Magicians as a stand-alone, and I really thought it was going to be. It wasn’t until after the book was finished that there was discussion of writing a sequel. I had left a tiny door open to return, because I loved writing the lead character, Sydney, an incredible amount. And even then, the inspiration for the plot wasn’t the primary motivation. That came about after thinking about where the characters were, emotionally, and what that would cause.
An Unkindness Of Magicians was an urban fantasy story. Would you say the same of A Sleight Of Shadows?
Yes. I’m very comfortable calling these books urban fantasy; they are fantasy books where the modern city environment is an important part of the story. In fact, I chose N.Y.C. for these books (and for some of the other things I’ve written) because it feels like a city where magic could take place.
Clearly you’ve eaten the pizza. Now, A Sleight Of Shadows is your fourth novel and fifth book overall, not including the three volumes of the Books Of Magic comics you’ve co-written, which we’ll get to in a moment. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on A Sleight Of Shadows but not on anything else you’ve written?
Because it’s so closely connected to An Unkindness Of Magicians, it’s hard to say that anything had an influence solely on A Sleight Of Shadows. But if we broaden that a bit and include lyricists and songs, then the song I quote as my epigraph, Dessa’s “5 Out Of 6” was definitely a huge influence — I considered it Sydney’s theme song as I was writing.
What about Neil Gaiman, with whom you’ve co-wrote the Books Of Magic comics…
So, Neil and I did not co-write Books Of Magic. Like the other Sandman Universe comics, the story took place in his world, and Books Of Magic obviously very much included characters and storylines that he originally developed, but I was the sole writer on my run, with the exception of the premier issue, when all the original Sandman Universe writers wrote their sections, and then one crossover Books Of Magic / John Constantine, Hellblazer issue co-written with Simon Spurrier.
But Neil was one of my instructors at Clarion, and we’ve been friends for about 15 years now. And I loved his writing before that, so I think it’s very safe to say that he’s one of the writers who is an influence in my work.
So, how do you think writing comics may have influenced how you wrote A Sleight Of Shadows? Because comic book scripts are very different from prose, and vice versa.
They are, yes. However, because they are so different, and because I was a novelist first, before I came to comic writing, and then particularly here, where I was writing a sequel to a book that had been finished before I began writing comics, I’m not sure if there is a direct influence. It may well be there, but more in the sense of my taking everything I’ve learned in previous projects forward into a new one, rather than specifically thinking about applying scripting skills to novel writing.
And then how about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of these things have a big influence on A Sleight Of Shadows?
Well, the lead character, Sydney, got her name because I absolutely loved the character Sydney Bristow (played by Jennifer Garner) on Alias. But otherwise, no, not specifically.
As we’ve been discussing, An Unkindness Of Magicians and A Sleight Of Shadows are the first two books of the Unseen World series. But is this an ongoing series of stand-alone or tangentially-connected stories, do Unkindness and Sleight form a duology, are they the first two books of a trilogy…
The two books are a complete duology. That’s it. I have no plans to return to this world at this time, and honestly, Sydney deserves a break.
Upon hearing that, some people may decide to read them back-to-back. Do you think they should, or is there some reason they should spread them out?
I think they would work well read back-to-back. As I said, A Sleight Of Shadows is a very direct sequel to An Unkindness Of Magicians in terms of what events it covers and when it takes place.
Earlier I asked if A Sleight Of Shadows had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Sleight — and An Unkindness Of Magicians, for that matter — could work as a movie, show, or game?
I do think the Unseen World duology could work well on the screen, whether that’s a movie or a limited series on TV. I’d honestly love to see how the magic renders on screen, so if anyone wants to buy the rights and make me really happy, I’d definitely like to encourage that. I’m not a game person, and so don’t know how that sort of adaptation would work, but again, if someone has the vision and wants to buy the rights, terrific. Let’s have that conversation.
And if someone wanted to adapt the Unseen World series into some movies or a show, who would you want them to cast as Sydney and the other main characters?
I don’t tend to fancast my books, either as I’m writing them or after, so I don’t have actors in my head as the main characters, for the most part, and part of the fun for me of having the books adapted would be seeing what someone else would bring to the story.
Though I will say that I did have Aldis Hodge as Hardison on Leverage in the back of my mind when I was writing Laurent, and I would absolutely love it if that carried over into actual casting.
So, is there anything else people need to know about A Sleight Of Shadows or the Unseen World series?
Hmm. That they make excellent gifts, and people should buy copies for themselves and for all their friends?
Finally, if someone enjoys A Sleight Of Shadows, they’ll probably read Unkindness Of Magicians if they haven’t already. But once they’ve done that, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?
This is sort of a tricky one to answer, because they’re all so different: a horror novella, a retelling of a ballad, and a short fiction collection. But I think I am going to recommend A Cathedral Of Myth And Bone, the short story collection, because it contains one of my favorite things I’ve written: “Once, Future,” a novella-length modern retelling of the King Arthur story, and I’d really love for more people to read it.