Sometimes it seems like every fantasy novel is set in modern times, the renaissance, or medieval times, and in places that resemble America or Europe. But in his new historical fantasy novel The Judas Blossom (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), the first book in a trilogy called The Nightingale And The Falcon, writer Stephen Aryan is telling an adventure set in the relatively unexplored realm of 13th century Persia. In the following email interview, Aryan discusses why he set it then, and there, and what else inspired and influenced this story.
Photo Credit: David James Coxsell
To start, what is The Judas Blossom about, and when and where does it take place?
The Judas Blossom is a historical fantasy story that takes place in 13th century Persia. It is about a group of rebels trying to fight back against the Mongol invaders who are occupying their country. During this period of history, the Mongols had a vast empire and they intended to conquer and then rule the whole world. The story is set in 1260 when the Mongol Empire was split into 4 territories or khanates, with each one being ruled by a different khan. The Judas Blossom focuses on the Ilkhanate, which covers parts of today’s Middle East and was centralized in Persia.
Where did you get the idea for The Judas Blossom?
I had been reading a few nonfiction books about the period, I enjoyed watching the Netflix series, Marco Polo, which is set in the same era, but not the same location, and as someone with Persian heritage, I wanted to lean into that and have a story set in Persia during this period. To my knowledge, there are no other historical fantasy novels set in this era in this part of the world. Usually, stories from this part of history tend to focus on the Mongols rather than the people who were conquered, and how they feel about it and their attempts to regain independence and freedom.
It’s not a period of history most people know a lot about, and a part of the world that many are unfamiliar with. So, for some readers it will feel like a fictional empire. It will introduce them to different aspects of a rich culture with history that goes back thousands of years. Also, I wanted to lean into history from this era, as despite being historical fantasy, all of the tentpole events in the book are based on historical facts, with some creative license around the who and when, so that I could make it a more cohesive story.
As you said, The Judas Blossom is a historical fantasy story. Are there any other genres at work in this story?
There are no other genres at work in the story.
The Judas Blossom is your ninth book after the Quest For Heroes duology, the Age Of Darkness trilogy, and the Age Of Dread trilogy. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had an influence on The Judas Blossom, but not on anything else you’ve written?
Only the nonfiction books I read, which provided me with historical background information for the series. There are no specific authors of fiction who influenced the series.
What about movies, TV shows, or games? Or, for that matter, comic books? Because in the interview we did about The Coward, you mentioned that it was influenced by The Punisher comics and Terry Moore’s Motor Girl.
No comics or movies, but as mentioned, the Marco Polo TV series showed very clearly that you can tell exciting and world-changing stories as vicious and complex as anything you’d see in Game Of Thrones, within the scope of our own world.
Now, you’ve already said that The Judas Blossom is the first book in a series called The Nightingale And The Falcon. How many books will there be in this series, and do you know what the others will be called and when they’ll be out?
The series is a trilogy. Book 2 will be out in July 2024, and book 3 in July 2025. I am currently halfway through writing book 3.
What was it about this story that made you think it couldn’t be told in just one volume?
It is a massively complicated part of history with many moving parts, factions, and huge events that changed the lives of millions of people. I’m only telling a story about one part of the world during this era. Trying to do all of that in one novel, with multiple points of view would have been impossible.
Earlier I asked if The Judas Blossom had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think The Judas Blossom would work as a movie, a TV show, or a game?
Given the global success of Game Of Thrones, I think The Nightingale And The Falcon series would work best as a TV series, because it also deals with complex political wranglings, warring nations, battles and armies, spies, and a touch of magic.
And if someone wanted to make that show, who would you want them to cast as Hulagu, Temujin, Kookochin, and the other main characters?
I’d prefer an unknown actor for all of the main roles. It allows someone to sink into the role and become the character, without someone saying or thinking “oh that’s so and so from That TV show.” It muddies the waters.
However, for dream casting, I would love the role of One or Empress Guyuk, to be portrayed by Shohreh Aghdashloo [The Expanse], because she’s an incredible actress.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Judas Blossom, what historical fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they check out while waiting for the second book to come out?
As you mentioned, I’ve written 8 other novels, so I would start with those and then perhaps something like She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan.