While he’s best known for the books in his Chathrand Voyage Quartet [The Red Wolf Conspiracy, The Rats And The Ruling Sea, The River Of Shadows, and The Night Of The Swarm], fantasy writer Robert V.S. Redick is beginning a whole new saga with his latest novel, Master Assassins (hardcover, paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, he explains the origins of this new saga, and why it needed to be, well, a new saga.
I always like to start with a short plot summary. So, what is Master Assassins about?
Master Assassins is a story about brothers, war fanaticism, genius, and love. Also demonic possession, giant vultures, and other hazards of the desert. As a matter of fact, it’s a story about just about everything but master assassins.
My heroes, Kandri and Mektu Hinjuman, are really just village boys whose luck goes catastrophically south. Drafted into an insane religious war, they don’t expect to live through their next suicide mission deployment. And that’s just one of their problems. The biggest of all comes one drunken night in a shack outside their army’s sprawling base camp. Without giving too much away, this is the night people begin to conclude that the brothers are spies and contract killers…and their lives are never the same.
Labels are funny things. Once imposed, they can grow towards reality, like plants towards the sun. Once a story takes hold, it can become more powerful than the truth. And so when the Prophet, the monarch and liberation hero of the brothers’ own people, declare them abominations and assassins, the brothers have no choice but to run for their lives.
Trouble is, the only way they can possibly escape the Prophet’s wrath is by disappearing into a lethal and enchanted desert. So that’s where they head, with her death squads hot of their heels. That’s the start of the avalanche, if you will.
Where did you get the idea for Master Assassins, and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
This book was born as a cry of a pain and rage at the stupidity of war. That first inspiration is still evident, I think, in the final product. But a primal scream is not a novel. A novel has life and complexity beyond any purpose you begin with. This book, like any book that truly comes to life in the writer’s imagination, grew in unexpected ways.
What I didn’t see coming was the humor. I didn’t foresee that Mektu would be a human train wreck, that he would crash and flounder his way through this war, making everything much worse and much better at the same time. And I didn’t see that the rivalry between the brothers would be both savage and hilarious, though I knew it would be tempered by love.
These changes are the fun stuff, I should add; the writers’ purest delight, maybe, discoveries more real and moving than anything you can think up logically beforehand.
Master Assassins has been called an epic fantasy novel. But do you think there’s a subgenre of fantasy, or combination of them, that would describe this book better?
I think “epic fantasy” is the accurate term here. When we speak of an epic, we are almost always talking about something on a vast scale. That certainly fits: the brothers’ flight will take them across the whole of a continent on foot. And unless we’re talking about mock epic, the term also tends to imply great deeds of some sort. In spite of themselves, Kandri and Mektu do such deeds, together with their sundry allies.
Other genres I can imagine this fitting into might include family gothic, war, road trip, or even eco-fiction, since a good part of the book takes place on the floor of a sea that’s been robbed of its water. It’s also a love story, though not so much the classic triangle as a kind of love hexagon. I’m having a blast juggling all these elements.
Prior to Master Assassins you wrote The Chathrand Voyage Quartet. Is Master Assassins the beginning of a new series?
Master Assassins is book one of The Fire Sacraments, a brand-new trilogy on a brand-new world. As deeply and passionately as I love Alifros — the world of The Chathrand Voyage — it wasn’t the right setting for the sort of story I wanted to tell in this new series. For one thing, I wanted to limit the role of magic: not eliminate it, certainly, but also not let it run away with the plot. Alifros was saturated with magic, defined by it, ruled by it. Urrath, by contrast, is ruled by human actions of a more familiar kind. Magic is there, but it is fleeting and hidden and doesn’t necessarily come when called. That kind of setting created room for me to focus on the interpersonal dynamics and their — sometimes enormous — consequences.
Another difference: The Fire Sacraments is not a young adult series. Though I might say in passing that it’s surprisingly hard to define “young adult.” Beyond a tendency to feature younger characters, what’s the difference? Not quality. Not intensity. Not subject matter. Perhaps there are subtle differences in one’s working assumptions about the reader’s life experiences, but even these you make at your peril.
The second book in this new series will be called Sidewinders, and it broadens the story quite a lot. We see Urrath not just from the brothers’ point of view but from three others in distant lands. Across that book these various players begin a kind of cyclonic convergence towards the grand finale in the third volume, Siege. I’m working hard on Sidewinders right now, and it should be published in late 2019.
Well, their certainly ought to be a movie, given how many people are asking me about it. Really, it must be a more cinematic book than I’d ever considered. I’d love to see it happen, of course, but nothing’s is in the works just yet.
If it did happen, who would you like to see them cast in the main roles?
Casting choices are always a great fantasy to indulge in. First and foremost: Letitia Wright [Black Panther] for Ariqina. She is the transcendently brilliant young doctor whose disappearance breaks Kandri’s heart to pieces, and whose fate is such a mystery in Master Assassins. Also Jamie Foxx [Baby Driver] as Chindilan the weapons smith. Oh, he’d be spectacular. Chris Rock [Good Hair] could be an amazing Kandri if he played it really deadpan. For the Prophet, we’d need a veteran actor of color who could play a truly dangerous woman. Nichelle Nichols [Star Trek], maybe? Or Susham Bedi [The Big Sick]? Mektu’s the hardest of all: we’d need a totally gonzo but gifted young actor, someone needy and inspired and infuriating and loving. Who can pull that off? You tell me.