Usually when you ask the writer of an epic fantasy novel who influenced their tale, they’ll mention J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and other people with a bunch of initials in their name. But in the following email interview with writer Mike Brooks, author of the epic fantasy novel The Splinter King (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) — which is the second book in The God-King Chronicles trilogy after The Black Coast — he doesn’t cite a person but a place…and not one from another fantasy novel, either.
We did a deep dive on the first book, The Black Coast, in an earlier interview, but real quick, what is The God-King Chronicles trilogy about, and what kind of world is it set in?
Essentially, I suppose it’s about the power of belief. The message of The Black Coast was about different cultures coming together and putting aside past hatred to learn to live together, but The God-King Chronicles has more wide-ranging themes about how it’s not whether what someone believes is “true” that’s important, what’s important is what those beliefs make them do. It’s set in an epic fantasy world covering various different cultures and climates, where magic and gods might seem ambiguous to us, but they are very real to the inhabitants…and in The Splinter King, those elements come a little more to the fore.
And then what is The Splinter King about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to The Black Coast?
It picks up directly where the previous book left off.
At the end of The Black Coast, the Naridans and Tjakorshi in the village of Black Keep had fought off invaders and more or less reconciled their differences. In The Splinter King, Darel Blackcreek has to travel to Idramar to persuade the God-King himself that the Tjakorshi should continue to live there, leaving Daimon and Saana behind to deal with events in the Blackcreek lands, while Saana’s daughter Zhanna heads off into the mountains to see what’s happened to the people of the Smoking Valley. Meanwhile, Tila Narida is back from organizing the assassination of the Splinter King and his family and has to cope with the new political climate in Idramar, while Galem, the sole survivor of that assassination and technically the new Splinter King, goes on the run with Jeya the street thief.
When in relation to The Black Coast did you come up with the idea for The Splinter King and what inspired it?
That’s a very hard question to answer, because this series has been chopped and changed around. Originally, all the events in Blackcreek lands were going to be their own little trilogy, and I envisaged Galem and Jeya having their own book, but my agent at the time advised me that it would be better to do everything all together, to give a more wide-ranging (or “epic”!) feel to the series as a whole, rather than focusing in on different parts in different books. As a result, the Blackcreek story, the Splinter King story, and the shadow of the allegedly-reborn God-King are all being covered at once.
The Black Coast was an epic fantasy novel. Is The Splinter King one as well?
I think it’s even more epic, to be honest. Things start to tie together into a more cohesive picture, different characters meet each other, and larger events get set into motion. With that said, Jeya and Galem’s story has elements of a gangland thriller, while Zhanna’s journey into the mountains is an adventure story.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Splinter King but not The Black Coast?
Gods, you’re asking me this now?! I’ve written [counts] four novels and a novella since then, and I’m currently halfway through two more. But the honest answer is no, I don’t think so: the series was planned out well before The Black Coast was finished, so most of the influences got thrown in together.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of them have a big influence on The Splinter King?
The Smoking Valley is heavily influenced by Yellowstone, and I cannot recommend highly enough the 2009 BBC documentary series about Yellowstone (which I believe got edited down for Animal Planet in the U.S. and called Yellowstone: Battle For Life). There’s probably not much that comes through other than it being a geologically-active valley high in the mountains, but that was certainly a big influence on the setting for that part of the novel.
Nimbus and Inara
And what about your cats, snakes, and tropical fish? What influence did they have on The Splinter King? Because I’ve heard tropical fish are crap with characterization but really great with dialog.
I believe I say in the acknowledgements that I’m definitely not thanking my cats, because I’ve had nothing useful out of either of them…
Yes, and I’m sure that won’t come back to bite you in the ass. Anyway…when not doing your own novels, you write ones that are connected to the tabletop science fantasy wargame Warhammer 40,000, including Rites Of Passage and Brutal Kunnin. Have you ever had an idea for one of your own novels and then realized it would work better for a Warhammer 40,000 one or vice versa?
Entirely possible. But nothing I can think of, certainly nothing big. It’s not like I’ve pitched a novel to Games Workshop, they’ve refused it, and I’ve decided to file the serial numbers off and do it as my own. I think that’s partly because that setting is so convoluted and unique (at least in combination of elements, if not the elements themselves) that it would be hard to take a storyline that would work in 40K and make it work anywhere else without it being obvious where it was from.
Now, as we’ve been discussing, The Black Coast and The Splinter King are the first two books in The God-King Chronicles trilogy. Do you know yet what the third and final book will be called and when it will be out?
It’s called The Godbreaker, and it will be out in the summer of 2022 (barring, as always, unexpected publishing or shipping delays).
Some people who write trilogies will later expand upon them with sequel trilogies or side stories. Is this your plan for The God-King Chronicles trilogy as well?
I know what I’m writing next and, assuming I can persuade anyone to publish it, it’s not set in the same world as The God-King Chronicles. But I’m not going to tell you what it is, in case no one wants it and then I can pretend that what I actually end up doing next is what I was going to do after all…
However, I certainly have the potential to go back to the world of The God-King Chronicles for other stories, or to flesh out backstory. We’ll have to see.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Black Coast and The Splinter King, which of your Warhammer 40,000 novels would you suggest they read while waiting for The Godbreaker to come out?
I would probably recommend Rites Of Passage. Although it’s written with the assumption that the reader will know about the background of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, it’s not as reliant on detailed knowledge as, say Alpharius: Head Of The Hydra (which is technically a Horus Heresy Primarchs novel, but who’s counting?). Rites Of Passage is about a Navigator House, and how their battle-axe of a matriarch gets embroiled in a murder mystery. It’s more of what is sometimes known as “domestic 40K,” set away from the battlefield and in Imperial society. Besides which, Lady Chettamandey is one of my favorite characters.
If, on the other hand, you know 40K, then it would be remiss of me not to suggest Brutal Kunnin, which is Games Workshop’s first novel from the point-of-view of an Ork, and is quite the most fun I’ve ever had behind a keyboard. Ork logic is hilarious to write, and by all accounts, also hilarious to read. I’ve realized that I channel Pratchett when writing Orks (please note that I’m not claiming to be as good as him), which I think makes for a nice beacon of explodey fun-times in the otherwise quite solidly grimdark 41st Millennium. They let me name a squig Princess (for entirely justifiable reasons!), what else can I say?