While many fantasy stories deal with war — either showing what led to it or what happened during it — we usually don’t get to see what happened afterwards…unless, of course, it leads to another war. But in the following email interview, writer J.P. Oakes’ explains why his epic and dark urban fantasy novel City Of Iron And Dust (paperback, Kindle) may take the aftermath of a goblin / fae war in a more chaotic direction.
Let’s start with the basics: What is City Of Iron And Dust about, and what kind of a world is it set in?
The book is set in a world where goblins and fae went to war and the goblins won. In the aftermath they’ve achieved an ’80s / ’90s level of technology. Now they live in vast cities, encased in iron walls that cut the fae underclass off from their magic. The only way the fae can connect with their old magic is through a drug called Dust. As rebellion ferments in one city, a massive package of Dust arrives, threatening to topple the existing power structures and plunge everyone into chaos.
Where did you get the idea for City Of Iron And Dust?
Almost two decades ago, I got this image in my head of an orc centaur, half-orc and half-motorcycle, and I wrote a short story pretty much around that. I think that image probably came out of childhood spent playing Shadowrun and Warhammer and reading cyberpunk novels. The story, it should be mentioned, is unpublishably awful. However, a lot of elements — Dust, rebellious fae, etc. — were there, and they’ve been banging around in the back of my head for a long time. Having leveled up as an author a bit, I thought I’d give the ideas another go.
It sounds like City Of Iron And Dust is a dark urban fantasy novel. Is that how you’d describe it?
I think it sits at point between dark epic fantasy and urban fantasy. In my head, it feels like I took some elements of urban fantasy (a city setting, a noir tone) and then layered them onto an epic fantasy. There are also elements of an action thriller in there too, helping to propel the action along.
It also sounds like City Of Iron And Dust might have some humor to it.
Hopefully the humor in the book feels organic to the situations and characters. It’s there for a number of reasons. Partly it’s just a reflection of how I see the world, and my delight in the small absurdities of life. Partly, it can help move fiction along from a pacing perspective. And partly, it was a way to reflect the bitter edge that a number of the characters have in a way that hopefully doesn’t distance the reader too much.
So who do you see as being the biggest influences on the humor in City Of Iron And Dust?
A lot of my favorite comedians do quite big, absurd stuff, but that very much isn’t the style of the book. Honestly, I’d probably say (and this a bit of a deep cut) Britain’s 1980s satirists. Ben Elton before he went Broadway perhaps? But also more contemporary folk like Trevor Noah and Lewis Black, too (at least hopefully).
Aside from the people you just mentioned, what writers and specific stories do you see as having the biggest influence on City Of Iron And Dust?
The whole New Weird movement had a big influence on me, especially on my approach to genre and my disregard for its traditional boundaries. There are also action-adventure writers, like James Rollins and Boyd Morrison, who have influenced how I like to pace books. And also contemporary author friends like Paul Jessup and Natania Barron who I share a lot of my writing with.
How about non-literary influences; was City Of Iron And Dust influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I spent a lot of time as a teenager playing Shadowrun, and its fingerprints are all over this book. Fae, goblins, and magic in a city setting? Check, check, and check.
Now, dark urban fantasy novels are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is City Of Iron And Dust?
Right now, it’s a stand-alone story. There are a number of story threads in the book, and while not all of them have neat closed endings, I’ve followed them all to a point where I’m satisfied, and where I’ve explored the themes and ideas to my satisfaction. I’m certainly not opposed to writing another book in the series if there’s a demand, but right now I’m interested in exploring other ideas and worlds.
Earlier I asked if City Of Iron And Dust had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip the script, as you kids probably don’t say anymore, do you think City Of Iron And Dust could work as a movie, show, or game?
There are seven viewpoint characters in the book, and I think that, in the end, would limit the formats where it could work. I don’t think a movie could support that many threads in a reasonable running time. Also, while I’m a huge gamer, and would absolutely adore to see what Obsidian, or Telltale Games, or DontNod might do with it, I’m not sure it’s focused enough for a video game either. A TV show would probably be the best format to give the story the room it needs to breathe.
If someone wanted to make that happen, who would you want them to cast in the main roles?
Fantasy casting? Hell, yes.
For Knull, Benjamin Wadsworth, because I enjoyed the hell out of his performance in Deadly Class, and he hits disaffected teen so damn hard. For Edwyll, [Spider-Man‘s] Tom Holland, because…well because he’s Tom damn Holland, and this is a fantasy, isn’t it? Also, he makes earnest-ness look good, and that’s what a fae who wants to transform the world through art needs. María Gabriela de la Faría should play Jag because, honestly, I really enjoyed Deadly Class, and I would like to cast as many of those people as possible, so yeah, I think she’d make an awesome goblin princess. For Bee, [Lady Bird‘s] Lucas Hedges has been quality in everything I watch him in, and could convey the physical energy of a fae revolutionary. For Sil, I think Anya Taylor-Joy [The Queen’s Gambit] could hit the sort of other-world calm that I apparently associate with half-fae half-goblin ninja assassins. For Granny Spregg, I would love to see [F9‘s] Helen Mirren play a conniving, foul-mouthed former matriarch trying to claw her way back to power. Finally, for Skart, Giancarlo Esposito [The Mandalorian] adds so much presence to everything he’s in, and I think that’d be perfect for an old-school fae leading a new revolution.
Finally, if someone enjoys City Of Iron And Dust, what epic and dark urban fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
It’s not terribly dark, but Tad Williams’ The War Of The Flowers is an utterly brilliant book about fairies living in an urban setting. I can’t recommend that highly enough. Also, Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter is another very cool story that also riffs on the same sort of setting. You can’t go wrong with either of them.