While sci-fi fans know writer Mike Brooks as the author of the Keiko space opera novels, fans of the Warhammer 40K role-playing game know him better as the author of such connected novels as Rites Of Passage and Brutal Kunnin. Well, now fans of fantasy can get to know him as well thanks to The Black Coast (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), the first book in his epic fantasy trilogy The God-King Chronicles. In the follow email interview, Brooks discusses what inspired and influenced this first installment, as well as his plans for the series going forward.
To start, what is The Black Coast about, and in what kind of world is it set?
It’s about a couple of different things, really. One plotline is about two different cultures, who have historically fought with each other, being thrown into a situation where they have to cooperate and live together in order to survive. Which doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy, but they have to learn about each other, and accept or work around their differences, to avoid mutual destruction.
The other main plotline concerns the line of succession to the throne of the God-King, including an exiled branch of the family, and rumors of a pretender claiming to be the original God-King reborn into a new body, and what that means for the current Divine Family. It’s about political maneuvering, and assassination attempts, and very much not the sort of understanding and cooperation that’s taking place elsewhere…
Where did you get the idea for The Black Coast, and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this story?
The ideas for some parts of it have been floating around in my head since the ’90s, believe it or not. The series as it’s ended up is very different to the ideas I had then, but some events, characters, etc., have remained similar.
However, one of the main things that inspired me to concentrate on writing it now was when Britain voted for Brexit in 2016. I was very angry about the vote to cut ourselves off from the European Union, based on what seemed little more than xenophobia hidden behind lies about money and immigrants and fish, so I wanted to write something where hope and tolerance was far more prevalent. The direction my country’s taken in the years since has only reinforced that belief in me.
The Black Coast is obviously a fantasy story. But is there more to it?
It’s epic fantasy. It’s quite a low-magic fantasy: much of the magic or religious elements are deliberately quite ambiguous. You might, if you were feeling adventurous, call it hopepunk: I generally have a healthy disregard for “-punk” labels, because there’s often very little that’s “punk” about them, but so much of this series is about challenging existing power structures and trying to build something better that I think it fits.
Also, I’m in a punk band, damn it.
The Black Coast is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Black Coast but not on anything else you’ve written?
Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles certainly did. That was the main inspiration for the ambiguous low-magic feel of the world. So many of the things that happen in those books could be coincidence, or an unlikely-but-plausible combination of events, but could equally be read as something magical or supernatural.
How about non-literary influences; was The Black Coast influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
An essay I read about Baze and Chirrut’s relationship in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story gave me some inspiration for how the social structure of one culture influences the way they use language. And I think it’s fair to say that the BBC’s Planet Dinosaur was an influence on some of the dragons and dragon-like creatures that inhabit the world (again, I wanted to have huge monsters that would be at least biologically plausible, even if they didn’t directly match up to anything from real life).
Now, some of the other books you’ve written — including Rites Of Passage and Brutal Kunnin — are connected to the tabletop science fantasy wargame Warhammer 40,000. How has writing those books, which are both in a somewhat different genre and also overseen by someone else — influenced both what you wrote in The Black Coast and how you wrote it?
I’m not entirely sure that they have, to be honest. Other than the fact it’s been great to be able to move between projects. Rather than writing all three novels of The God-King Chronicles in one go, I’ve interspersed them with work for Games Workshop. That means I’ve had interludes of dakka and chainswords between the slightly more introspective (and slightly less violent) stuff I’ve been writing for myself.
Speaking of those other novels, you’ve said The God-King Chronicles will ultimately be a trilogy. What was it about this story that made you think it needed three books to tell and not just one or two or thirty-seven?
Because that’s what we could reasonably sell to a publisher… Which is perhaps not a great answer, but it’s a truthful one.
My original plan for the stories of this world was more wide-ranging, but it came down to feasibly being able to sell three books. I’d already had experience with the Keiko series ending before I had planned it to, and I didn’t want to leave this story half-told, so I trimmed it down and repackaged it into something that would fit into three novels. That way, I know that the main story will be told and finished. Perhaps, if it’s successful, I can visit some other parts of that story or the world in the future.
And do you know yet what the other books will be called and when they’ll be out?
The second book is called The Splinter King, and is due to be out in July this year from Orbit in the UK, and in September this year from Solaris in the US. I do know what the third one’s called (I’ve just finished writing it), but I haven’t had the say-so to tell anyone else yet. And I’m not sure about the release date for it.
As you mentioned, your Keiko series was going to be a five book series, but only three ever came out. As a big fan of those books, I have to ask: Are there any plans to write and release the other two?
The reason is simple: Not enough people bought them. Which is happily not a risk for this series, since all three books are contracted and written, so no one need worry about starting a series that won’t be finished. Of course, if people wait until the third book is out before they buy the first one then I’m probably not going to get a chance to write any more…
As for the Keiko series, in some respects I’d love to go back and finish it, if someone wanted to actually publish them. On the other hand, although they were fun, my ideas of what I want to be writing, and the themes I want to explore through it, have changed since I started writing Dark Run in 2013. I think I’d have to rework my original plan for the story arc in order to be happy with writing it now.
Earlier I asked if The Black Coast was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. Has there been any interest in turning The Black Coast and the rest of The God-King Chronicles trilogy into a movie, show, or game?
A good rule for these things is “if nothing’s been officially announced, the author can’t tell you anything.” Like, literally. Sometimes people ask me what I’m writing next for Black Library, and I have to explain to them that the contracts I sign include non-disclosure clauses, and if I blab before time then the contract can be terminated and they might not use me again.
Right, right. But if someone did want to adapt this saga, what form would you prefer it take?
My initial response would be that I think a TV show would work well, and quite honestly, I’d love to see what someone did with it. And I mean that literally, because I’m not a particularly visual writer, so I’d love to actually see the sets, costumes, etc., that someone made to fulfill their vision of what I’ve written.
What about as a Warhammer 40,000 expansion module?
No, definitely not! For one thing, it’s fantasy, whereas 40K is sci-fi. For another, a lot of the point of The God-King Chronicles is about trying to avoid fighting, whereas that is really not the case for 40K… (especially when you play orks, like I do).
Finally, if someone enjoys The Black Coast, what similar kind of fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for The Splinter King to come out?
I honestly can’t think of a fantasy series that’s particularly similar to The God-King Chronicles, but that doesn’t mean to say that one isn’t out there.