Like any kind of fiction, the fantasy genre includes numerous sub-genres, including “urban fantasy,” “Grimdark,” and “fairy tales.” But with his new swashbuckling novel The Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors (hardcover, digital), writer Curtis Craddock thinks he may have invented a new sub-sub-genre of “flintlock fantasy” he’s dubbed “sailpunk.”
Let’s start with the basics: What is An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors about?
It’s the swashbuckling, cloak-and-dagger, palace intrigue story of a polymath princess and her faithful musketeer. They match wits with an immortal madman who is intent on ending the age of reason before it begins.
Clearly, An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors is a fantasy novel. But since there are so many fantasy sub-genres, where do you think the book fits and why there? Because Charles Stross [The Laundry Files] called it “gaslight fantasy,” but that just makes me think you’re trying to manipulate me.
I am very thankful to Mr. Stross for his endorsement. He was the first writer to give me a blurb. But if I had to pick a sub-genre, I’d peg An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors as “flintlock fantasy.” It’s set in a time period roughly analogous the beginning of The Enlightenment, before the advent of steam power. I have also occasionally referred to it as “sailpunk,” a niche it occupies all by itself.
You’ve said that An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors is the first book in a series you’re calling The Risen Kingdoms. Without spoiling anything, what is this series about, do you have an ending in mind, and how many books are you planning it to be?
To answer the last question first, right now the series is open ended. If people want more I’ll write more, though always bearing in mind that no story goes on forever, and even the greatest heroes get old and die. My current plan is for each novel to be self-contained so that the reader doesn’t have to start with book one, but that the whole should be readable as a series, each adding to the experience of the others.
The first three books center around two point-of-view characters, Isabelle and Jean-Claude, and chronicle their adventures. They are, in essence, a father-daughter team, which is a pretty rare trope in fantasy. The two thematic threads that really run deeply through the story are “the family you choose” and “strive to improve the future not worship the past.”
So where did you get the idea for An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors, as well as The Risen Kingdoms as a whole?
Start with The Three Musketeers, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Count Of Monte-Cristo, and work your way all the way up through Captain Blood, Treasure Island, Zorro, and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl. I love anything with either a buckle or a swash in it.
I don’t remember exactly what precipitated the idea, but I got it into my head that I was going to take a “princess in the tower story” and turn it on its ear. I didn’t really know where the story was going to end up when I started it and it changed a lot over the course of several drafts.
I decided early only that Isabelle would be an intellectual force to be reckoned with, a cross between Emilie du Chatelet and Sherlock Holmes. Jean-Claude, meanwhile would be musketeer based on the trickster archetype. He’d much rather outwit his enemies than stab them.
Are there any writers, or specific novels, that you see as being a big influence on both how you wrote An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors as well as what you wrote about?
Alexander Dumas definitely influenced me in terms of subject matter. Lois McMaster Bujold and her Vorkosigan books in particular have influenced my authorial voice.
How about non-literary influence; are there any movies, TV shows, or games that you see as having a big impact on An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors?
Aside from aforementioned movies, there’s a tabletop role-playing game called 7th Sea which had a large influence on me. Many of the threads to my stories were first explored in one way or another whilst sitting around a gaming table throwing handfuls of ten-side dice with my friends. The setting for The Risen Kingdoms is in several ways reminiscent of the original 7th Sea setting.
Now, when you’re not writing The Risen Kingdom series, you work at a prison, teaching computers to inmates. Why did you decide to not write a cyberpunk novel in which a guy who learned to hack computers in prison holds the world hostage unless his demands for freedom are met?
I really get enough of prison during the daytime. I like my work, but it’s nine hours a day in a concrete box. I do take advantage of my day job to learn about the way secure facilities and systems of justice and punishment are arranged, and how those things fit in the large context of culture and economy, but I have no interest is fictionalizing it.
Earlier I asked about movies and whatnot that were an influence on An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors. But has there been any interest in adapting An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors into a movie, TV show, or game?
If the HBO leprechaun shows up on my door tomorrow with a pot of gold labeled, “The Risen Kingdoms: Season One,” I will do my best to maintain a calm and dignified composure rather than grabbing the leprechaun in an enormous hug and weeping on his or her shoulder.
I think that a TV series would work better than a movie because it would have time to deal with more of the world building and the sub plots. An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors has a lot of moving parts, and stripping out enough of them to cram it into the time requirements of a movie would be problematic. Though I wouldn’t turn a movie deal down.
As for games. It would make a great sourcebook for any number of table-top RPGs.
If it was going to be made into TV show, who would you like to see them cast in the main roles and why that?
I really haven’t any idea who would play the main characters. I could see a young Cate Blanchett [The Lord Of The Rings] playing Isabelle. Maybe Richard Armitage [The Hobbit] as Jean-Claude, and Gary Oldman [Harry Potter] as Kantelvar.
What about if it was a game? What kind of game do you think it should be, and who should make it?
Definitely a tabletop RPG. I’ve already written a Fate sourcebook for it that I have used to run games for friends, but it would take some work to turn it into a saleable product. I’d love to have Ross Watson or Sean Patrick Fannon do it, if only because I know them personally and know they’d do a great job.
Finally, if someone enjoys An Alchemy Of Masques And Mirrors, what would you suggest they read while waiting for The Risen Kingdoms Book Two to come out?
Everyone should go read Carol Berg’s Ash And Silver, for deep and complex characters and a richly textured world. Also read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards Of Honor and The Vor Game for absolutely lovely writing and some of the best characters in sci-fi. I’d check out Courtney Schaeffer’s The Whitefire Crossing for wilderness adventure and unlikely friendship, and if you haven’t read Fredrick Pohl’s Gateway you really should. It’s a bit dated but it still has a great deal of emotional punch.