Exclusive Interview: “Where Peace Is Lost” Author Valerie Valdes


As someone who’s hit middle age, and hard, I find myself appreciating stories about older heroes more these days. Like Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny. Or Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s a similar position that author Valerie Valdes finds herself in, one that led her to write her new space fantasy novel, Where Peace Is Lost (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Valdes discusses what else inspired and influenced this story.

Valerie Valdes Where Peace Is Lost

To start, what is Where Peace Is Lost about, and when and where is it set?

It’s about Kel, a knight-turned-refugee hiding from the empire that conquered her people, who has to risk exposure — or possibly all-out war — by going on a road trip to save her new home from a deadly machine that could destroy the planet. It’s set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, so basically it’s space fantasy, with spaceships and lasers and swords and robots and magitech.

Where did you get the idea for Where Peace Is Lost?

The older I get, the more older characters appeal to me, and the more I think about how they tend to get swept aside or treated as exclusively mentor figures, especially in structures like the Hero’s Journey. A lot of the first spark of this book’s concept came from me thinking about what we know about Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars movie. It’s not a lot! He lives alone in a cave house. He was a general who served in some long-ago war. He has strange powers founded in an ancient order that no longer exists. He has a cool laser sword. And then…he dies.

Now, of course, we have a lot of other information about him and that universe, with years of voids filled in and explained. But going back to that initial introduction, I thought: What if he was the main character instead? What would a similar story look like? Someone hiding from an evil empire, trying to stay out of trouble, when they’re called to help people in a way uniquely suited to their skills and experience, but that risks dragging them back into conflict with their enemy. The rest of the novel accumulated around that core concept.

As you said, Where Peace Is Lost is a space fantasy novel. But it sounds like it might also be a military sci-fi novel…

It’s definitely not military sci-fi, even though several characters are or were in some form of military organization. The main action of the story is a small group of people on a quest traveling to their destination, with all the trouble they run into along the way. I’ve compared it to The Mandalorian because I think it has a similar sense of a narrowly focused goal within the framework of a wider universe of problems and back story and conflict potential. Kel is a former knight whose homeworld was conquered and colonized, and the other characters have all been impacted in different ways by the same empire. Some of the technology is more fantastical than realistic, past the usual boundaries of space opera and into stuff like the alchemy you see in Voltron: Legendary Defender. There’s an old genre label, planetary romance, that I think is somewhat apt as well, though Where Peace Is Lost doesn’t have the level of magic and politics of something like [Robert Silverberg’s] Lord Valentine’s Castle, no aliens like [Alan Dean Foster‘s] Drowning World, and a tighter scope than [Ursula K. Le Guin’s] Hainish Cycle.

Where Peace Is Lost is your fourth book after the Chilling Effect trilogy. They were also sci-fi, but had some situational humor to them. Is Peace humorous, too?

There’s some situational humor and a few quips here and there, but overall this is not a funny book. The Chilling Effect trilogy, in a lot of ways, was me letting loose and trying to examine various cultural zeitgeist things through a humorous lens, sometimes with gallows humor. I wasn’t imitating Terry Pratchett exactly, but his approach inspired me in mine. While I did draft Fault Tolerance during the pandemic, the tone and the shape of it and the universe it inhabits were already set; some elements clearly were impacted by lockdowns and supply chain disruptions and so on, but I had planned a lot of stuff well beforehand.

For Where Peace Is Lost, I was consuming very different materials from the start. I was reading things like [Ursula K. Le Guin’s] The Dispossessed and thinking about utopia and dystopia, and the in-between space that I recently saw Karen Lord call midtopia. I was thinking about how so many sci-fi / fantasy stories revolve around the power fantasy of an underdog finding a way to solve problems with violence. But I was also thinking about colonialism, and fascism, and the lengths to which oppressors will go to deprive the oppressed of tools they could use to fight their oppression. I kept coming back to a quote by Kwame Ture: “In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.” All of this went into the pot, and the stew my brain cooked up was more bitter than sweet.

Aside from all of the people you already mentioned, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Where Peace Is Lost but not on anything else you’ve written?

This book has way more Arthuriana flavor in it than my other work. I have a whole shelf of the stuff, from Geoffrey of Monmouth to T.H. White. Concepts of honor and chivalry and the moral imperative to do good deeds are really attractive to me. There’s also a little bit of [Lois McMaster Bujold’s] Shards Of Honor in here, and [C.J. Cherryh’s] Rimrunners, and [Robin McKinley’s] The Hero And The Crown.

What about non-literary influences; was Where Peace Is Lost influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

I mentioned Star Wars and Voltron: Legendary Defender already, but there’s also some Dragon Age 2 in this, primarily in the form of the main characters. Kel has a lot in common with Aveline; they’re both relatively stoic but with flashes of wry humor, they’re both sword and board fighters with a strong sense of honor and duty, and they’re both utterly clueless when it comes to romance. Dare shares traits with Fenris, a gruff former slave turned freedom fighter who has a lot of pent-up anger that erupts when the right enemy presents itself, and whose experiences make it hard for him to form strong, trusting relationships. Lunna is similar to Merrill, without the blood magic; they’re both rays of sunshine whose naivete sometimes works against them, despite their intelligence and specialized knowledge. Savvy aligns with Isabella, a saucy pirate captain with a sharp tongue and somewhat flexible morals, though Savvy is far more idealistic and kindhearted than she lets on, where Isabella is definitely looking out for number one first and foremost. This isn’t a fanfic by any stretch, though; it’s more like, this is who each of them would be if they took a “Which Dragon Age 2 character are you?” quiz.

And what about your cats? What influence did they have on Where Peace Is Lost? Or did they learn their lesson after being so prominently featured in the Chilling Effect trilogy?

No cats in this book, alas, unless you count the somewhat catlike robots! Right now, I have two of my own, Inara and Wash, and the poor things are too old to get into much trouble anymore. Mostly they sleep, and pee outside the litterbox, and beg me for cheese.

 Wash, Inara


As I mentioned, your three previous novels comprised a trilogy. Is Where Peace Is Lost the first book of a series as well?

Right now it’s stand-alone, but I do have ideas for where to take this next. My original plan for it hewed closer to something like Star Wars: A New Hope, or even Rogue One, with a team being assembled to do a revolution-related mission. As I was working on my chapter outline, I realized I wanted to tell a smaller story instead, with the same characters but backing up to show more of the planet where Kel was hiding, the people there and the life they lived, and how even far-off worlds can be affected by the long reach of empire. In my mind, this would lead into expanding scope, more worlds and larger conflicts, like a camera zooming out. But despite all of this percolating, I still wanted the book to be self-contained, to feel like the plot resolved in a satisfying way even if it left people wanting more stories with the same characters.

Now, along with Where Peace Is Lost, you also have a story called “Atalanta Hunts The Boar” in an anthology called Fit For The Gods. I did an interview about Gods with the editors, Jenn Northington and S. Zainab Williams, but what is your story about, and how does it relate to the theme of this anthology, which is new spins on the Greek myths?

My story is, as the title implies, about Atalanta, who most people know from the footrace and the Golden Apple trick, but there’s also an Atalanta who sailed with Jason and the Argonauts and helped hunt the Calydonian boar. I smushed them both together. My Atalanta and her husband are caught engaging in, ahem, private activities in the office of a notorious underworld figure, who strongarms them into doing her a little favor: find The Boar and take him down. It’s a little cozy mystery and a lot space opera, with a high-speed podship race through a maze of canyons inspired by the Noctis Labyrinthus region of Mars.

What was it about Jenn and S.’s idea for Fit For The Gods that made you want to contribute a story? Or did you make the same mistake I did and think it was a workout book for people who want to be jacked like Chris Hemsworth from the Thor movies?

I think there’s a natural inclination among writers — among people in general even? — to want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and retelling stories about mythological and historical figures is one way of doing that. It’s a thing people have been doing since we were people. The modern equivalent is basically fanfic, you know? You write your self-insert original characters and next thing you know there are a hundred heroes sailing around on the Argo with Jason. You’re on the Argo and you’re on the Argo, everyone is on the Argo! And I don’t say that to trivialize the stories or to minimize their religious nature and value, it’s more that I was excited to be working within this tradition that is so rich and deep that it’s kept inspiring people for thousands of years.

Going back to Where Peace Is Lost, earlier I asked if it was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Peace could work as a movie, show, or game?

I think it would make a good film. A lot happens, so it could be a miniseries or TV season instead, but more so than my other books, this one feels like it can be pared down to bare bones and turned into a solid adventure road trip movie.

And if someone wanted to make that movie, who would you want them to cast as Kelana and the other main characters?

Picking one person for this stuff is tough! It’s so subjective, and anyone involved in casting will have their own ideas, and may know way more actors than I do. I will say that for Kel I’d go with someone who does stoic well, and commanding, a Jennifer Hale as Commander Shepard [Mass Effect] or Claudia Black as Aeryn Sun type [Farscape].

So, is there anything else people need to know about Where Peace Is Lost?

It’s a kissing book!

Valerie Valdes Where Peace Is Lost

Finally, if someone enjoys Where Peace Is Lost, what space fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?

Can’t go wrong with Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *