Exclusive Interview: Legacy Of Ash Author Matthew Ward
With Legacy Of Ash (paperback, Kindle), writer Matthew Ward is kicking off his dark epic fantasy saga, The Legacy Trilogy. In the following email interview, Ward not only discusses what inspired and influenced both this installment and the larger saga, but also explains why he thinks you shouldn’t wait for all three books to come out before you start reading this series.
Photo Credit: Photo Nottingham
To start, what is Legacy Of Ash about, and what kind of world is it set in?
At its heart, Legacy Of Ash is about characters wrestling with the mistakes of the past; their own, the previous generation’s, and those bequeathed them by history. It’s in acceptance or repentance of those mistakes that the sparks fly.
The novel begins at a crisis point where these stories collide and the sparks quicken to a flame. The brink of resurgent rebellion by an oppressed people. Warriors determined to atone for their actions. A princess attempting to prove herself worthy of her lineage. Divinities grappling with the conflict between their natures and their responsibilities. Dozens of small struggles that threaten to reshape the world, for better or worse.
Aradane — the world of Legacy Of Ash — is best described as a late medieval / early Renaissance fantasy world, although it’s much less proscriptive than that description might suggest. Magic is accepted as real, but largely distrusted. The gods are present, but distant…except for when they’re not.
Where did you get the idea for Legacy Of Ash, and how did the plot evolve as you wrote the book?
The story that became Legacy Of Ash has always been defined by the relationship between Viktor Akadra and the other core characters (though I won’t say which ones, as it constitutes spoilers for both this book and those that follow). It’s lurked at the back of my mind for years. While I told other stories in Aradane, what would become The Legacy Trilogy existed only as a very brief paragraph of history while I worked out how best to tell it.
This will likely sound pompous, but I didn’t want to engage with it for the longest time, because I knew that it was going to be big and I wasn’t certain I could do it justice. I knew that brief paragraph would expand to fill several books, but while I knew the ultimate ending of the story (or at least a facet of it), I wasn’t at all certain of what would happen along the way.
The breakthrough came with the idea for the climax of Legacy Of Ash. Everything else unfolded backwards from there.
Legacy Of Ash has been called a dark epic fantasy tale. Is that how you’d describe it?
When I’m asked about Legacy Of Ash, I tend to describe it as sitting on the midpoint of a line with The Lord Of The Rings at one end, and Game Of Thrones on the other. Dark, but not pitch black (though obviously there are bleaker tales out there than Thrones). Actions have consequences — so many, many consequences — but seldom in an overly graphic sense.
Broadly speaking, I think one of the wonderful things about epic fantasy is that it’s such a broad genre. Generations of authors can, and have, told stories with tendrils in all kinds of other styles. There are certainly flavors of political thrillers, action / adventure, horror and other things lurking in the pages of Legacy Of Ash, but I think that’s true of most fpic fantasies once you start digging.
Are there any writers or stories that had a big influence on either what you wrote in Legacy of Ash or how you wrote it?
I can blame being introduced to The Hobbit at a very young age for a lot of it. The idea that the world beyond your front door is both more wonderful and terrible than you can imagine is a hugely powerful message. Much of the rest spills out from there, passing through such things as Pratchett, Narnia, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The generational aspect of Legacy, in particular, owes a debt to Terry Brooks’ Shannara and Geoff Johns’ run on Justice Society Of America.
Style-wise, my greatest influences are probably Alistair MacLean and Timothy Zahn. For all that they write in very different genres (although Zahn’s The Icarus Hunt is hugely reminiscent of MacLean’s When Eight Bells Toll) they’re masters of wry, engaging dialogue who trust a character’s words and actions tell their stories, rather than rely on introspection.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big impact on Legacy Of Ash?
I cite J.M. Straczynski’s Babylon 5 a lot when asked this question. And rightly so, as it reshaped my perceptions about what an epic could be. The supporting characters, in particular, are a masterclass in how to craft engaging, emotional multi-story (and multi-year) arcs.
But even before that, I grew up in the absolute best time for fantasy television (fight me!). Classic Doctor Who. The Box Of Delights. Frequent repeats of Ray Harryhausen-era movies like Clash Of The Titans. Richard Carpenter’s Robin Of Sherwood — a fantastic retelling of the legend with a mystical, god-haunted slant. Rentaghost (only half-joking on this). All of them scratched the itch of “a world beyond the one we see” which is woven through Legacy’s core.
And Star Wars. Always Star Wars. I can’t tell you how disappointing it was to learn that no, I couldn’t be an X-wing pilot. That sort of thing leaves a mark.
Video games-wise, it’s a much shorter list, but there is a debt of inspiration owed to the Thief series (excepting the entirely rubbish Thief 4). Like Babylon 5 it opened my eyes to a different way of doing things — in this case, a different kind of fantasy world.
And for my last question about influences, you’ve worked on a number of tabletop games. How did that work influence how you told the story in Legacy of Ash?
Wargames revolve around imposing order on the chaotic to make the actual game. Storytelling’s similar, but different in that you don’t want the seams to be visible, whereas a game relies on it. The appearance of fluid, organic narrative but with a solid structure underneath.
But that’s about as far as it goes. Mostly, I just let the characters do what they want.
Legacy Of Ash is the first book of The Legacy Trilogy. What can you tell us about this series?
Any story worth its salt leaves you wondering “what could happen next?” The ultimate idea is to have a trilogy where each book is strengthened by the others, rather than marooned if it’s read alone. The second book, Legacy Of Steel [which will be available digitally everywhere later this year, and in print next year in the U.S.], is written very much with that in mind — and it’s something I want to carry over into the final volume as well.
That said, I’m a firm believer in making every story as stand-alone as possible. Even now, The Lord Of The Rings is so often the model for modern fantasy, but it’s easy to forget it’s a trilogy by way of publication choices, rather than original intent. The Two Towers feels like a series of middle chapters — rather than a story with its own dedicated beginning, middle and end — because that’s what it was written to be.
Beyond that, the trilogy’s set in a larger world that didn’t just come into being at the start of the first chapter, and will keep turning longer after the last has been told. There’s always, always, always going to be more to explore.
Upon hearing that Legacy Of Ash is the first book of a trilogy, some people will hold off reading it until the two other books are out, and some of them will then read all three in a row. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
Part of what’s built into the Legacy trilogy is the passage of time. By and large, the actual narrative in each book unfolds over a couple of weeks, with months or years passing away in between.
[But] I’m not going to argue with anyone who’d rather wait for the whole thing to be available in one go. The reality is that fantasy has become notorious for sequel delays, though with Book 3 well underway, and Legacy Of Steel in the “making it beautiful” stage (often crudely referred to as “editing,” bah!), I doubt that’ll happen here.
Even so, I think there’s an indefinable value to having that gap. To knowing that the characters’ lives are moving forward in the interim, alongside your own, and they’ll have changed a little in the meantime, just as you’ve changed. And as I said before, Ash and Steel are both written to be as self-contained as possible. You’re getting a complete story in each…it’s just that there’s a larger one looming behind.
Earlier I asked if Legacy of Ash had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But has there been any interest in making a movie, show, or game out of Legacy of Ash or this trilogy?
Nothing I know of at this time, but wouldn’t that be something?
Do you have a preference?
On reflection, I think the length of the narrative lends itself more to TV than to movies. There are so many characters and moving parts it’d be impossible tell the story in a 150+ minute movie. Fellowship Of The Ring is upwards of 185,000 words, and even with substantial cuts (where are my barrow-wights? I want my barrow-wights) it barely squeezes into a four-hour director’s cut. Legacy Of Ash is nearer 240,000. That’s not to say cuts couldn’t be made, but I’ve already removed everything I thought unnecessary, so I’d lean towards the freedom of TV.
Video games are trickier. I think the setting would make an exceptional foundation for any number of games. We see only a fraction of what’s there in Legacy Of Ash. The story itself? I confess I’d love to see a homage to the old Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum era movie license tie-ins — essentially a series of tangentially-connected mini-games with some lovely chiptunes– but beyond that, I don’t know how well it would translate. But never say never.
If Legacy of Ash was to be made into a TV show, who would you want them to cast in the main roles?
One of the disadvantages of being mired in the ’70s and ’80s for a lot of my film and TV references is that a lot of go-to actors are, sadly, no longer with us. For this reason, I normally allow myself the use of a time machine when fantasy casting.
But let’s give it a go. Richard Armitage [The Hobbit] could be a particularly brooding Viktor Akadra. [Harry Potter‘s] Emma Watson would make a suitably defiant Calenne Trelan. Aaron Taylor-Johnson [still the best Quicksilver, even if Avengers: Age Of Ultron isn’t perfect] for her brother Josiri. Perhaps Zendaya [Spider-man: Far From Home] as Melanna Saranal. Eva Green [Casino Royale] as Anastacia.
We’ll stop there, but not before I permit myself a one-time use of the time machine to have Carrie Fisher [Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker] for Revekah Halvor.
What about a tabletop game? And would you want to work on it or would you rather someone else design it?
Oh, I’m entirely the wrong person to design it. For one thing, I don’t have the time. For another, I’d get too caught up playing favorites with certain characters and factions, and that’s always pretty much the death knell of any play experience.
No, I think I’d be much better served being the evil license holder, making the developers’ lives more…interesting…by insisting certain words not be used in particular contexts, or having an ironclad hand on the style guide. Bwahahahaha.
Finally, if someone enjoys Legacy of Ash, what similarly dark epic fantasy novel or series of novels of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for Legacy Of Steel to come out?
That’s a tricky question to answer — these days, the time I once used to spend reading fantasy I spend writing it instead. When I crack open a book, I want something completely different. I think the last fantasy series I meaningfully engaged with was Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles, and that’s going back a ways (and is arguably not fantasy anyway).
That said, I’d encourage anyone looking for richly-constructed worlds and charming characters to check out Timothy’s Zahn’s original, non-Star Wars works (though most of those are great as well), especially the Quadrail series and the aforementioned The Icarus Hunt.