Having previously collaborated on seven horror, urban fantasy, and YA novels, writers Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon are trying their hand at epic fantasy with Blood On The Four (hardcover, Kindle), a stand-alone high fantasy tale. But in talking to them about this book, they revealed that the impetus wasn’t so much to tell a challenging story as much as it was to challenge themselves.
L to R: Tim Lebbon, Christopher Golden
To start, what is Blood Of The Four about?
Lebbon: One of the hardest things is to try and sum up a book you’ve written. Which is why we love it when the publisher produces such great cover blurbs. So… In the great kingdom of Quandis, everyone is a slave. Some are slaves to the gods. Most are slaves to everyone else. Blessed by the gods with lives of comfort and splendor, the royal elite routinely perform their duties, yet some chafe at their role. A young woman of stunning ambition, Princess Phela refuses to allow a few obstacles — including her mother the queen and her brother, the heir apparent — to stand in the way of claiming ultimate power and glory for herself. Far below the royals are the Bajuman. Poor and oppressed, members of this wretched caste have but two paths out of servitude: the priesthood…or death. Because magic has been kept at bay in Quandis, royals and Bajuman have lived together in an uneasy peace for centuries. But Princess Phela’s desire for power will disrupt the realm’s order, setting into motion a series of events that will end with her becoming a goddess in her own right…or ultimately destroying Quandis and all its inhabitants.
Where did the idea for Blood Of The Four come from, and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
Lebbon: We’ve been working on the basic idea for Blood Of The Four for some years. We imagined it as a tale of three families — royals, slaves, and priests — and how their interactions and relationships causes, or follows, the potential fall of an empire. The final novel differs quite a bit from our early concepts, but that’s the way good stories go. They take over and find their own life. We have fond memories of driving to a convention in North America and brainstorming ideas.
Blood Of The Four has been called an epic fantasy novel. But is there a subgenre of fantasy, or combination of them, that you feel describes this novel better?
Lebbon: Categorizing is quite difficult, and we also think it can be a bit restricting. It is epic fantasy, but it doesn’t have elves or dragons, orcs or magical quests. It’s more concerned with politics and characters, history and society…though there are a fair few battles, and sword work aplenty.
Are there any writers, or specific books, that you feel had a big influence on Blood Of The Four, but not on your previous stories?
Lebbon: This is our eighth novel together, but the first fantasy novel. As for inspirations, we took inspiration from own own world’s histories whilst coming up with story ideas.
What about movies, TV shows, comic books, or video games; are there any of those that had a big impact on Blood Of The Four?
Golden: Our influences come from everywhere. We’ve already seen people refer to Game Of Thrones, but for me there’s as much Battlestar Galactica, the remake, in this, not to mention John Boorman’s Excalibur and my experience working with Mike Mignola over the years. [Golden and Mignola co-wrote the Baltimore graphic novels The Plague Ships, The Curse Bells, A Passing Stranger And other Stories, Chapel Of Bones, and The Apostle And The Witch Of Harju, and both are working with Andrew Cosby (Eureka) on the screenplay for the upcoming live action Hellboy movie.]
Now, as I mentioned, you guys wrote this together. How did this collaboration come to pass?
Lebbon: As I mentioned, we’ve been writing novels and stories together for years. This is our eighth novel together, and where previously we’ve written horror, contemporary fantasy, and young adult novels, we wanted to try something a little different, and something that perhaps edged us both outside our comfort zones a little more. Challenging ourselves as writers is something we both like to do, and this book was certainly that.
Tim, what did Christopher bring to this that you did not?
Lebbon: When we write together, Chris is great at plotting and getting us out of holes we might have written ourselves into. He’s great at seeing the bigger picture, and at keeping track of where we are and what we’ve done. I’m more…let’s plunge in and see where this takes us.
And Christopher, same question to you about Tim.
Golden: Tim’s the key to a lot of the world-building we do. He simply sees things differently than I do. He loves to think about how to complicate the society of the world and how to throw each vital character into a situation that will destroy their lives. He challenges the story constantly, which always makes it better.
I also have to ask, Christopher: How often do people confuse you with Christie Golden, who wrote the Chronicles Of Verrold fantasy duology of Instrument Of Fate and King’s Man & Thief, as well as the Star Wars novels Dark Disciple and Battlefront II: Inferno Squad?
Golden: Weirdly, not as often as you’d think. Christie and I each published our first novels in the same year, both were vampire novels, and both of our fathers were named James. But only once has one of us received fan mail for the other, even after all these years. Kind of incredible, when you think about it.
Tim, this would be a good time for you to tell Christopher that you thought you were collaborating with Christie Golden. This is a safe space.
Lebbon: Er…well, we’ve become such good friends, I’d better not say.
Moving on, you’ve already said that Blood Of The Four is a stand-alone novel, and not a part of a larger saga. Was that the plan going in?
Lebbon: Yes, that was the plan. We wanted to write a big, wide ranging fantasy novel that actually finished the story, as opposed to committing ourselves to a series of novels over which a story might straddle several years. The story lent itself to that right at the beginning. We think it worked out pretty well.
Golden: Pretty well? I think it worked out great!
Of course, in writing Blood Of The Four, you created a new fictional universe for it to take place in. With the book done, is that it for this universe, or are you thinking there might be other stories to tell in it, just ones that are unconnected to Blood Of The Four?
Lebbon: We like to think we’ve created an intriguing, interesting universe, and so it goes without saying that there are countless stories still to tell. That should be the case with any fantasy universe you build up, whether you write one novel set there, or ten, or a hundred. How many novels are set in our own world? If you do your job right, the world becomes three dimensional, with a deep past and endless stories to tell. We do drop a few hints in Blood Of The Four, and mention a few histories and side stories that we might end up exploring one day.
Earlier I asked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that may have influenced Blood Of The Four. But has there been any interest in adapting Blood Of The Four into a movie, show, or game?
Lebbon: We’d love to see this adapted as a TV series. Maybe one season, with a closed ending — like the book — but with obvious opportunities to open up the world and tell different tales in subsequent seasons.
Golden: I think it could be a film, for sure. But with the advances in epic television series, and the size and particularly the history of the world we’ve created here, TV would be ideal.
Finally, if someone enjoys Blood Of The Four, they’ll want to read more of your books. Christopher, which of Tim’s novels would you suggest they read next and why, and Tim, which novel of Christopher’s should they read next and why?
Lebbon: They should check out Chris’ recent novel Ararat, which just won the Bram Stoker Award. Not at all similar to Blood Of The Four, but one of his best, rich in great characterization and a thrilling, terrifying story.
Golden: Tim’s solo fantasy novels are remarkably good. Just stunning. But my favorites in recent years are the sci-fi horror Coldbrook and, of course, The Silence, the film adaptation of which is coming soon. It’s one of my favorite novels of the past five years.