With The Last Raven (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer Steve McHugh is kicking off a series of urban fantasy noir novels called the Riftborn saga. Though as he explains in the following email interview, the Riftborn will ultimately comprise a trilogy of trilogies.
To begin, what is The Last Raven about, and what kind of a world is it set in?
The Last Raven is set mostly on Earth — New York State to be exact — but also in the Rift, which is a dimension attached to our own. The Rift is full of incredible power, and occasionally there are tears between the Rift and Earth and that power comes here, usually with less-than-ideal consequences.
Lucas Rurik was a riftborn — a human who when near death was taken into the Rift and given incredible power — but he has lost his power. After spending several years away from the life he knew, and getting to grips with being human again, he’s forced back into his old life to try to catch someone who tried to kill his friend.
So what can the riftborn do? What makes them different from humans?
“Riftfused” is the umbrella term for everyone who has been touched by the power of the Rift in one way or another. There are riftborn: humans who near death are taken through a tear into the Rift and given abilities in the process; revenants: humans who die near a tear, bringing them back to life and giving them a variety of powers; and fiends, which are essentially animals on Earth who either merge with animals from the Rift or die close to a tear so the power of the Rift brings them back.
There are a few more, but those are the main three.
Riftborn all have individual abilities. Lucas could turn into smoke, for example. Riftborn are the only people who can move between the Rift and Earth without being immediately turned into ash. Revenants come in a variety of species, so chained revenants have actual chains fused to their wrists and they can use their power to see possible futures. Fiends are just terrifying creatures that occasionally think humans make a good snack.
Yeah, I’ve heard we taste just like chicken. Anyway…where did you get the idea for The Last Raven?
The idea started with Lucas, a man who has been around for thousands of years, who has seen a lot, and who was a dangerous and powerful individual, but who lost it all a few years earlier. I also had the idea of a dimension attached to our own where all of these people from history live because they were imbued with the power of the Rift. From there, the story sort of took off in its own direction, which is what tends to happen when I’m writing.
The Last Raven sounds like it’s an urban fantasy noir story…
It’s definitely urban fantasy noir, though there is also some epic fantasy in there too as far as the Rift goes. The Rift is a land quite unlike our own, with its own life, its own laws, cities, and politics. I kind of got to have my cake and eat it, too.
The Last Raven is your 18th novel…
Actually, it’s my 15th novel and 19th book overall, including novellas, which seems a bit mad now that I’ve written it down.
I stand corrected. So, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on The Last Raven but not on anything else you’ve written?
I think the influences on The Last Raven mostly come from such comics books as DIE, Nocterra, Sandman, Saga, Bitch Planet, Hellboy, and so many others. Stuff that took horror, sci-fi, or fantasy and did something really interesting with it.
How about non-literary influences; was The Last Raven influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
With video games, I think the world-building of games like the Tales series, Final Fantasy, and the like. Having played so many big JRPGs definitely helped with the worldbuilding of the rift. The Dishonored series too. I think when it comes to games there are lots of cool little bits that, when I’m playing, I think, “Oooh, that would be cool to do this with.”
I think film wise, stuff like John Wick, Man From Nowhere, The Raid films, and I Saw The Devil, all had an influence on me, even if it was just giving me some new action ideas.
The Last Raven is the first book in a series called Riftborn. What can you tell us about this series?
It’s an ongoing series of, at the moment, 9 books. It’s basically about Lucas returning to his old life and the people who would very much like him not to. There are mysteries about the people who force Lucas back into his old way of life, and what their long-term plans are for the rift and earth.
If I do 9 books, I can do 3 trilogies within the same series. The first trilogy is about Dr. Mitchell, a rather unpleasant person who has been experimenting on the riftfused. What happens between Dr. Mitchell and Lucas in the first 3 books leads directly into the next 3.
Of course, best-laid plans and all that. It may go longer, but right now, I have 9 books planned.
Upon hearing that The Last Raven is the first book of a trilogy of trilogies, some people may hold off reading Raven, at least until the third book of the first trilogy is available. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
From a story point of view, each book will be self-contained as much as possible. Everything you need to know about that book is in that book. Each book has a beginning, middle, and ending, of that book, there are threads that move between books.
I also write fast, so the next one shouldn’t be too far behind the one you’ve just finished.
Earlier I asked if The Last Raven had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around and ask if you think Raven, and the Riftborn series, could work as some movies, a show, or a game?
I think it would make a good TV show. I think that 9 seasons is a lot more likely than 9 movies, so that’s the reasoning behind it. Or an animated TV show like Arcane. I think that would work brilliantly.
It should also, totally be a video game.
Basically, I’m all for a complete media domination.
So, if someone wanted to make that show, who would you want them to cast as Lucas and the other main characters?
James McAvoy [X-Men: Days Of Future Past] as Lucas. Not just because he does a great British accent, but also because he has roughly the same build and he’s proven he can do dark characters and action scenes.
[Cloud Atlas‘] Bae Doo-Na as Ji-hyun. Mostly because Bae Doo Na is absolutely amazing in everything I’ve ever seen her in.
Chris Evans [Knives Out] as Mason Barnes. Chris is great in everything too, but he plays a brilliant douchebag in Knives Out, and that sums Mason up pretty well.
[Game Of Thrones‘] Natalie Dormer as Dr. Callie Mitchell. Just a brilliant actress all around, but another one who is capable of playing some twisted characters.
And if someone wanted to make a Riftborn video game, what kind of game should it be, and who should make it?
I’d like Arkane Studios to make it as they do some cool stuff with powers in Dishonored and Prey.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Last Raven and the Riftborn series?
I had a huge amount of fun writing The Last Raven, and I just really hope that everyone who picks it up has as much fun reading it.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Last Raven, which of your other books would you suggest they read while waiting for the next Riftborn book to come out?
There are quite a lot of them. The Hellequin Chronicles, Avalon Chronicles, and Rebellion Chronicles books are one long series, but if you’re after something stand-alone, either No Gods, Only Monsters, an historical fantasy book set in Ancient Rome, or Blackcoat, a sci-fi noir thriller. Whatever you pick up, I hope you enjoy it.