Given my juvenile mind, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that my questions for Myke Cole, author of the grimdark fantasy novella The Armored Saint (hardcover, Kindle) would be full heavy metal references. It’s to Myke’s credit that he didn’t run to the hills. Or smack me.
Photo Credit: Karsten Moran
I always like to start with a plot summary. So, what is The Armored Saint about?
[in a movie trailer narrator’s voice] In a world where devils threaten to wipe out humanity, only just held at bay by a magical veil….in a world where wizards reach beyond that veil to channel the power they seek, and risk tearing it aside, letting hell loose upon us all…in a world where a draconian religious order will stop at nothing to keep the veil shut, slaughtering all who they even suspect of wizardry…one girl will stop at nothing to free her people from The Order’s iron grip.
But just because The Order is cruel, doesn’t mean they’re wrong…
Dun dun dun. So, where did you get the idea for The Armored Saint, and how different is the novella from that original idea?
Most people looking at the book’s cover have commented that Heloise, the protagonist, looks like a Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine. They’d be spot on. I love the dark, humanity’s-last-gasp-tone of the Warhammer 40K universe. My only complaint is that the universe focuses so heavily on war, and on the elite-status combatants, that you never see what life is like for normal people having to live in the ruins. I wanted to capture that experience, and that became the kernel of the idea that blossomed into The Armored Saint.
And why did you decide to name it The Armored Saint as opposed to The Iron Maiden or The Judas Priest? Or are you saving those for the next books?
I originally named the book The Fractured Girl. It’s an accurate title. Heloise is a girl and she does go through the ringer. But Tor.com [the book’s publisher] came to me with concerns that A) there is a huge glut of books with “girl” in the title lately, comically so; and B) The use of “girl” is frequently employed to strip young women of their agency. Heloise is an incredibly self-possessed and resourceful protagonist, so much so that she truly transcends the limits of her physical age. Calling her “girl” felt insulting. I agreed with Tor.com and we changed the title. We settled on the new one based on the fact that it’s ultimately a Jeanne D’Arc story, with Heloise undergoing a kind of transfiguration.
She also winds up in a suit of power armor, so…ya know.
Other titles I considered included Breakin’ The Law, The Trooper, and Cowboys From Hell, but for some reason, legal put the kibosh on those.
You’ve said that The Armored Saint is the first book in your Sacred Throne series. Without spoiling anything, what can you tell us about the other books. Which, annoyingly, are not called The Black Sabbath or The Metallica, but instead are titled The Queen Of Crows and The Killing Light.
I really don’t want to risk giving spoilers, so I’ll just say that it follows Heloise on the Campbellian hero’s journey. She is leading a rebellion, and is successful beyond her wildest dreams, but that success comes with a new host of problems that nobody could have expected. Like most people who set out to change the world, we seldom have a complete vision of the new world we’re trying to bring about, and the result can be something that nobody ever wanted.
So is The Sacred Throne series going to be just the three books, or will it be an ongoing thing?
It’s slated to be a trilogy, but I certainly have enough story material for more. We’ll have to see how the series sells and what other projects come my way in the meantime. But I do love this universe enough to spend more time in it if that’s what fans want.
Do you think people should wait until all three books are out and then read them all in a row, or is there some reason to put some distance between them?
I totally get the binge-reading trend in recent years, which has readers waiting for all the books in a given series to be released before they start the first one. I don’t fault people for this, but you have to remember that not every writer is an introvert. Some, like me, view writing as a form of communication. We put books out into the world because we desperately want to receive a signal back. We want to see our work reflected in the experiences of our readers. And if you’re not reading our books, not writing reviews, not talking about it online, if we have no way of knowing that our work is out there in the universe, resonating with an audience. It can be…disheartening.
Is that weakness? Fragility? Maybe, but it’s also true. I’m not Emily Dickinson. I don’t write for the hell of it, or because there’s some magical muse I aim to please. I writer for one reason and one reason alone: to communicate. And communication has both expressive and receptive paths. So, I’d ask readers, if they really want to support me, to buy my books as they come out, read them, and then talk about them as much as they can stand.
The Armored Saint is not your first novel. But are there any writers, or specific books, that you feel had a big influence on The Armored Saint, but not on your writing as a whole?
I’ve made no secret that The Sacred Throne series is my attempt to enter the “grimdark” subgenre. I love the super-bleak fantasy that has become popular as of late. I most admire writers like Robin Hobb — yes, I consider her Farseer trilogy [Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, Assassin’s Quest] to be dark; I understand some folks disagree — Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and Peter V. Brett. Life is hard, and outcomes are seldom rosy. If I’m going to get lost in a fantasy, it has to reflect the real-world well enough to make me believe.
But I also have to again mention Games Workshop’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universe’s as a major influence. They really did pioneer the always-darkest-before-it-all-goes-pitch-black tone that I love so much. Read Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn trilogy [Xenos, Malleus, Hereticus].
Oh, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
What about non-literary influences? Are there any movies, TV shows, or video games you think had a big impact on The Armored Saint?
Well, I’ve already mentioned a game, but let me add Bungie’s old Myth series. The whole video game is basically a retreating/rearguard action through a blasted landscape against overwhelming forces of the undead. You are guaranteed to lose, and the trick is more damage control than victory. Life’s like that, I think.
Another major influence is ancient history. I am currently in edits on Legion Vs. Phalanx, my first nonfiction book — a history of battles fought between the Roman legion and the Hellenistic phalanx — and nothing will convince you of the essential darkness of humanity more than watching Demetrios The Besieger reducing Rhodes.
So has there been any interest in adapting The Armored Saint into a movie, TV show, or video game?
This is a common misconception in the literary world. Movie and TV and game studios rarely come calling until a book is already fabulously popular. I could get lucky, but that kind of interest will likely be driven by sales. Fingers crossed for that.
I do have plans for a miniatures-based wargame set in The Sacred Throne universe, and I may get around to pitching that to companies after the trilogy is complete. I am a game designer, and developed and sold a tabletop wargame set in my Shadow Ops universe to Nocturnal Media. Sadly, the CEO of the company passed away unexpectedly, and the project had to be scraped, but we’re currently in discussions with another game company to revive it.
But like most writers, I’ll tell you that I’ll take whatever I can get. I really like this story, and I’d like it to reach as wide and diverse an audience as possible. When I was on Hunted, the TV show I was on last year, I reached twelve million viewers opening night. Books rarely command that size of an audience on their own.
If The Armored Saint was to going to be adapted into a movie or TV show, who would you like to see them cast in the main roles?
Man, I worry that answering this question will jinx things somehow, but I’ve been making extremely poor decisions for forty-four years now and there’s something to be said for consistency. I always mentally pictured Heloise to look like Daveigh Chase [Big Love] as Samara Morgan, but that was in 2002. So, I think if Lorde wants to launch an acting career, I’d be amenable to putting her in power armor and sending her out into the field to crack skulls.
What if it was a video game, what kind of game should it be and who should make it?
I would be beside myself if Stoic, the studio that made the incredible Banner Saga and Banner Saga 2 games, would take up the project. Stoic make the best possible blend of story driven epic, overlaid with a tactical wargaming system that stands up to the most hardcore table top strategists.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Armored Saint, what would you suggest they read while waiting for The Celtic Frost and The GWAR, I mean The Queen Of Crows and The Killing Light to come out?
Read Daniel Polansky’s The Builders, which is also from Tor.com. It’s noir style is very different from my prose, but the inherent darkness at the core of the narrative is right on target. Cute cuddly animals fucking shit up. Eat your heart out, Brian Jacques.