The fantasy genre is full of ordinary people who step up and become heroes. But in his sword & sorcery fantasy novel The Coward, writer Stephen Aryan gave us an ordinary person who not only didn’t do anything heroic, but he feels bad when he’s rewarded for what he didn’t do. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for us), that isn’t where his story ends, as Aryan has now released a companion novel called The Warrior (paperback, Kindle), in which the non-hero’s undeserved rewards drive him to do something, well, heroic.
Photo Credit: David James Coxsell
For people who didn’t read it, or the previous interview we did about it, what is The Coward about, and what kind of a world does it take place in?
The Coward is a story about the nature and the price of heroism. It’s about the perception of heroes versus reality, where people are flawed individuals, but we tend to blur or ignore those parts because we want to think of them as perfect. It’s about fame, propaganda, and the long-term effects of PTSD. It’s about a young man who went on an adventure of a lifetime with the greatest heroes in the Five Kingdoms, only to watch all of them die horribly in front of him. He’s spent the last ten years trying to come to terms with what happened, and The Coward begins with our main character, Kell Kressia, being summoned by the King of Algany to go on another adventure and save the world a second time. It takes place in a fairly small and self-contained fantasy world, called the Five Kingdoms, where there hasn’t been an all-out war in a long time, but there are political tensions between nations, as well as issues to do with church and state.
And then for those who did read The Coward, and thus can ignore me yelling SPOILER ALERT like a nutter, what is The Warrior about, and how does it connect to The Coward?
The Warrior takes place a couple of years after the events of The Coward. Kell is now the King of Algany and he has never been more miserable. He has a family, but also a lot of responsibility and is now even more revered by people, which he still hates. He sees himself as a common man, one of the people, but now there is an invisible line between them because he is the King. Trapped by responsibility and duty, he jumps at the chance to go on another adventure when an old friend turns up asking for his help.
When in the process of writing The Coward did you come up with the idea for The Warrior, and where did you get that idea?
The Warrior was planned from the beginning, about the same time I developed the idea for The Coward. I plan all of my novels in a series ahead of time.
Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on The Warrior but not on The Coward?
There’s one novel that shaped one very specific thing in The Warrior to do with the characters, but I can’t say what it is because it’s a big spoiler. However, once someone reads The Warrior, they will see the obvious comparisons. The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman was also on my mind, and the reason for that will also be clear by the end of the book.
How about such literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of those things have a particularly big influence on The Warrior? I mean, there is a character in this book called Willow…
Not really, no. It’s not a spoiler to say that this is another novel with characters going on a quest. I was more influenced by landscapes than anything else. Not far from where I used to live, in West Yorkshire, there are barren moorlands where you can find miles of empty space with nothing but heather, grass, a few rocks and rolling hills. There are no houses, power lines, or structures of any kind. It’s utterly untouched by human hands. The Warrior was also influenced by spending a lot of time working outdoors over the last five years and the variety of different habitats I encountered.
Now, in the previous interview we did about The Coward, you said that it and The Warrior form a duology called The Quest For Heroes. Is that still the case?
Still a duology.
You also said in that interview that you didn’t think people should read The Coward and The Warrior back-to-back because they’re both complete stories and not “two halves of a larger story.” Do you still feel that way?
Yes, I still feel that way. Both novels are complete stories and separate adventures. If you enjoyed The Coward and want to know what happens next then you can jump straight into The Warrior, but there is not a huge cliffhanger in the first book that is immediately resolved in the second.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about The Warrior and The Coward?
Both books have fantastic covers by Kieryn Tyler, and maps inside designed by superstar artist, Tom Parker. He turned my awful scribbles into something beautiful each time. I’m very grateful to both of them for making my books look so good.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Coward and The Warrior, what fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they check out and why that one?
I would recommend The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman [which you can read more about here]. It was one of my favorite fantasy books that I read last year. At first glance, it appears to be an adventure story, but that is just scratching the surface. There’s so much more going on with the story. It has excellent worldbuilding with far reaching consequences, fascinating characters and it’s also really funny. The author’s sense of humor fit me perfectly.
Another excellent book I’ve just finished reading is The Justice Of Kings by Richard Swan. It’s about an Emperor’s Justice, a man called Sir Konrad Vonvolt, who travels around the provinces as judge and sometimes executioner. He’s an educated man of the law, who also has some minor magical gifts that help him wring confessions from suspects, and even get answers from the dead. It’s a story about dramatic changes taking place across the world, where his role in society may soon become obsolete. It’s told from the perspective of his assistant, who is now an old woman, recalling her youth when she travelled with Sir Vonvolt. I thought it was a great debut and I look forward to reading the rest of both trilogies in the future.