Exclusive Interview: “Herald Of The Black Moon” Author Stephen Deas

 

With his new sword & sorcery fantasy novel Herald Of The Black Moon (paperback, Kindle), writer Stephen Deas is concluding the Dominion trilogy he launched in 2021 with The Moonsteel Crown and continued in 2022’s The House Of Cats And Gulls. Which, all together, form a sequel to The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice series, and a prequel of sorts to his novel Dragon Queen, which was the first book of his Silver Kings series, itself part of his Memory Of Flames series. (Whew!) In the following email interview, Deas explains what inspired and influenced Moon, including how he knew how it ended before he even started writing Moonsteel.

Stephen Deas Herald Of The Black Moon Dominion The Moonsteel Crown The House Of Cats And Gulls

For people who haven’t read the first two books, The Moonsteel Crown and The House Of Cats And Gulls, or the interview we did about Moonsteel, what is the Dominion trilogy about, and what kind of world is this story set in?

This is one of those horrible open questions with all manner of answers, isn’t it? I could reply thematically: it’s about hope vs. despair, it’s about friendship and family, it’s about the power of offering trust to someone when you’re almost sure they’re going to make you wish you hadn’t, but at the same time, just maybe they won’t. It’s about opportunities for redemption and for power, and how different they are, and what they can to you when you take them, for better and for worse.

I could talk about the plot: three ne’er-do-wells caught on the fringe of a conspiracy against an incumbent ruler, desperately trying to survive when both sides of a power-struggle they don’t understand are after them, one to punish them, the other to silence them. Eventually discovering that what they thought was the conspiracy is itself merely the edge of some much older, darker thing, something most of the players don’t even understand.

I could talk about the characters. The evolution of Myla, a holy soldier of sorts, who’s on the run and in hiding after having stabbed someone a bit too rich and important to brush under the carpet. Of Seth, the failed priest, kicked out for asking the wrong questions once too often and generally meddling with things best left alone. How they face their failings, and the very different paths they choose. Or Seth’s brother, Fings, the superstitious, infamous, kleptomaniac burglar. He just wants a quiet life, preferably one where he doesn’t have to worry about his extended family starving, certainly one where he doesn’t have to worry about murderous sword-monks, rampaging Dead Men, angry mages and the relentless bad decisions of everyone around him, like meddling with dark gods or trying to hand stolen goods back to their rightful owner. Really bad decisions.

(Fings doesn’t want to go on a character-changing journey, or indeed a journey of any sort. He’s fine as and where he is, thanks).

Or I could just say how it all kicks off: how at the start of The Moonsteel Crown, we meet Myla and Seth at their lowest point. Seedy taprooms, narrow back-alleys, that sort of thing. Oh, and it’s winter and snowing a lot. Fings being rented out for a job and Myla the extra muscle. An unusual box from an unusual place, unusually well-guarded, with strict instructions not to open it and look inside. Which of course is exactly what Fings does, as well as stealing a pile of other stuff no one asked him to. How it all snowballs from there into a mess of double-crosses and hidden treasure and kidnapping and betrayal and murder. And an accidental zombie, and then maybe some zombies that aren’t accidents.

Take your pick…

And then for people who have read the books, and can thus ignore me writing SPOILER ALERT, what is Herald Of The Black Moon about, and how does it connect to the previous installment, The House Of Cats And Gulls?

Chronologically, Herald Of The Black Moon picks up immediately after the end of The House Of Cats And Gulls β€” in Myla’s case, literally. The Moonsteel Crown has seen Myla and Seth forced to confront the choices they’ve made and the things they’ve done that have led them to be where they are. In The House Of Cats And Gulls, both went gone looking for answers. Myla went to face the demon of her past and take the consequences; and in this, she’s succeeded. Seth’s had slightly more mixed results, his inner demon apparently manifesting as a city-destroying collection of monsters, Seth trying to exorcise himself in the only way he knows.

For both, Herald Of The Black Moon plays out the consequences of those choices: Myla steadfastly fighting through whatever needs fighting until she has the truth of what really happened in The Moonsteel Crown and why; Seth running and hiding from a past that won’t leave him be (because let’s face it β€” the fact that it was an accident when you burned someone alive doesn’t make the vengeful friends and relatives any less angry about it), and being sucked ever further down the exact path he was trying to avoid because it’s the only way he can see to survive.

Oh, and there’s the conspiracy going back two generations involving warlocks, dark magic, pacts with vengeful half-gods, opening the gates to the underworld, all that sort of malarkey, none of which is going to end well if no one stops it, and which both Seth and Myla unravel in their different ways. But mostly, it’s about Myla and Seth and Fings, how the paths Myla and Seth have chosen circle them back together, and not in the best of circumstances. And Fings, caught perpetually between them.

Stephen Deas Herald Of The Black Moon Dominion The Moonsteel Crown The House Of Cats And Gulls

When in relation to writing The Moonsteel Crown and The House Of Cats And Gulls did you come up with the idea for Herald Of The Black Moon?

Somewhat unusually for me, I knew exactly how Herald Of The Black Moon ended before I wrote the first word of The Moonsteel Crown. I knew most of the major events, and who was where doing what. I knew how the finale went almost scene by scene. I’m usually more one to fly by the set of my pants with a general destination in mind, but not this time. There was a reason for Dominion to be different, but we’ll get to that…

The Moonsteel Crown was a fantasy tale of the sword & sorcery variety. Would you say the same of Herald Of The Black Moon?

I’m happy with sword & sorcery for the first two. Herald Of The Black Moon is a bit more like having my sword & sorcery characters dumped into an epic fantasy and being less than pleased by the whole business. The first two books are mostly confined to single cities, so it was nice to roam a little more widely. I thoroughly enjoyed writing Myla’s obstinate refusal to be cowed by anything, and Seth’s mad conviction that he can outwit a god.

You’ve written or co-written over two dozen novels. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Herald Of The Black Moon but not on anything else you’ve written?

It’s never easy to pick these things apart, but sort of yes. I read Elizabeth Moon’s Deed Of Pakksenarrion series a very long time ago, but it’s always stuck with me. I didn’t set out deliberately on this path, but the similarities between Herald Of The Black Moon‘s Myla and Oath Of Gold‘s Pakksenarrion quickly became fairly obvious, and I did lean into that.

Possibly another influence here, in unravelling the conspiracy, were Mick Herron’s Slough House books for their general grubbiness. Oh, and Fings briefly stole Black Orris from The Bone Ships, because Fings is like that when it come to other people’s property.

How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games?

Very much so. The House Of Flying Daggers, and Kingdom for sure. The relentless optimism of Horizon Zero Dawn’s Eloy reminds me of Myla, though I’m not sure which came first for me. Days Gone was an enjoyable open-world zombie apocalypse game which really captured (for the first time for me as a player), the terror of a true horde of the undead. Also Misfits, which passed me by when it first came out, but the idea of really mediocre super-powers largely used for petty-minded nonsense was certainly a bit of an inspiration for Seth.

I mentioned a moment ago that you’ve written or co-written more than a dozen novels. Among them are a couple series, including Memory Of Flames and Thief-Taker’s Apprentice, both of which were trilogies, while Silver Kings was a tetralogy. Did writing those complete series make it easier to write Herald Of The Black Moon as the end of the Dominion trilogy, or did it make it harder because you didn’t want to repeat yourself?

Dominion is my fifth fantasy series and my sixth altogether, so I reckon I’m used to them by now. The Thief-Taker series made this one easier because I’d already done a lot of the world-building groundwork, and the Memory Of Flames series meant I already had the wider cosmology worked out.

That said, I’m aware that by approaching this series the way I have, I’m cutting from old cloth to an extent, which it why the whole thing aims to keep a tight focus on the three central characters and let them drive the story.

Now, there are undoubtedly people who’ve been waiting for Herald Of The Black Moon to come out so they can read all three books back-to-back. But do you think this is a good idea, or should people put some distance between them?

I tend to try and write trilogies so that the first book can be read largely as a stand-alone story, while the second and third tend to be more closely intertwined. This is true of this trilogy too, in that there’s a definite gap between books one and two, while the third follows directly from the second (I do leave one character on a cliff-hanger) and both Seth and Myla are immediately thrown into actions that are direct consequences of their choices at the end of The House Of Cats And Gulls.

That said, the plot of Herald Of The Black Moon leans quite heavily into threads left hanging in The Moonsteel Crown, and there’s a lot of little bits of world-building and history from the first book that suddenly take on a slightly different meaning.

So if I have to choose then I’d say read them back-to-back.

So, is there anything else people need to know about Herald Of The Black Moon or the Dominion trilogy?

Yes… The Dominion trilogy is, in effect, a second prequel series to Dragon Queen. Yes, it’s in a different world, but there is crossover, at least two characters from the Dominion series are mentioned in A Memory Of Flames, and the ending of Herald Of The Black Moon informs the world in which the Memory Of Flames second series is set. Which made it easier to write, insofar as there was a quite a specific way in which the finale had to go, but also harder for exactly the same reason.

So for the die-hard fans who read The Silver Kings and had questions about how a certain thing came about and what all that nonsense with the Stormdark beginning to change, and what was with that epilogue, there are some answers for you here. And yes, the Ice Witch has a name now… And if you didn’t, and you get to the end of Herald Of The Black Moon and you liked it, good news! There’s a sequel trilogy already finished and published and waiting for you.

Stephen Deas Herald Of The Black Moon Dominion The Moonsteel Crown The House Of Cats And Gulls

Finally, if someone enjoys Herald Of The Black Moon and the Dominion trilogy, they might want to read something short and sweet. So, what fantasy novel of someone else’s, which is a fast and fun read, would you recommend they read next?

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s City Of Last Chances, which I’ve just finished reading. I really enjoyed the general sense of great events happening through a series of chaotic accidents, greed, persistence and plans going awry. Reading it gave me the same sense as I had when writing The Moonsteel Crown.

 

 

One thought on “Exclusive Interview: “Herald Of The Black Moon” Author Stephen Deas

  • April 25, 2023 at 12:41 am
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    … and to think I thought the clean living Jackson Lamb aka @GaryOldman was a breath of fresh air until I read the epic fact based spy thriller, Beyond Enkription in #TheBurlingtonFiles series as part of my MI6 induction program. It’s a must read for espionage cognoscenti.

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