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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interview with Sebastien de Castell, author of Traitor's Blade

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,

Traitor's Blade, my new favorite fantasy novel was an incredible read for me. I was so blown away by the depth, the heart, the intensity and the excitement packed into the book's pages.  I think if you like your fantasy full of action, compelling characters, dastardly villains and lots of snark, this book is for you. And I'm so happy for the opportunity to talk to the author, Sebastien de Castell, about this wonderful story!

I’m delighted to be here, Charlene! Thanks for having me.

Q: In keeping with the action packed opening chapters of Traitor's Blade, I wanted to first ask you to talk about how your knowledge of fencing and swordplay helped you write the fight scenes in this book. I really loved how those scenes were so easy to follow and gave some insight into technique. Were those scenes difficult to write? Are they all very technically sound?

Fencing is an odd sport because your time splits very cleanly into two types of moments. The first is when you’re out of measure. What this means is that you and your opponent are too far away for a single attack to reach the other. Think of those moments in a movie when two opponents are circling each other. That’s the time when your mind is weighing options and formulating an attack. Once the opponents are in measure, that is, close enough to strike, then you’re lunging, parrying, binding your opponent’s weapon, or any number of other forms of attack or defence. When that’s happening, you really don’t have time to think - your body is executing on the instructions you gave it a moment before or acting on reflex.

Falcio tends to use that out of measure time to, in effect, explain to the reader how he’s thinking and what strategy might work for him. It’s as if time slows down, just a bit, which is often how it feels during a bout. When he’s actually in measure and the fight is happening, only the quick, raw actions are described so that the reader can feel the speed of what’s taking place. The reason I write this way is so that when the actual fighting is happening the reader has a sense of the motivation behind the movements, rather than just watching whirling blades in their head with no sense of what it all means.

In terms of the question of the fights being technically sound, I’d say they’re true to the world of Tristia, in which the story takes place. Because it’s a fantasy world rather than simply a replica of our own Renaissance or Early Modern Europe, I stay away from what I’d call pseudo-historicism. So I don’t start referencing specific historical techniques from our own world and instead gave a new set of names and forms to the fencing styles. I aim for things that can be evocative rather than literal. So, for example, there never was a move in our own history called “the widow’s parry”, but when people see it in the context of the story they’re able to visualize what it might be. That’s the ultimate goal for me: to put down just enough text that the reader can create the fight in their own minds - to make the reader the true choreographer of the fight.

Q: What was your inspiration for the corrupt land of Tristia - was it based on a historical place and time?

I’m always a bit leery of giving too much detail about the origins of ideas because I don’t want that to colour the reader’s own interpretation of the story. That being said, Tristia is a country that has been rich and powerful for several hundred years but has, in effect, stopped advancing. The weight of corruption is preventing any of the developments that, in our own world, led to the Enlightenment and subsequently the modern era. There’s such an inertia - a belief that things are as they have always been and always will be - that the country never advances socially, politically, or technologically. Because they’ve always been more sophisticated than their neighbouring states, they think of everyone else as barbarians. But the barbarians have been continuing to develop as nations, and they’re soon going to come sniffing at the door of this once mighty country...

Q: The main character, Falcio Val Mond, is very interesting to me, because he has had so much grief in his life but still remains optimistic. What was your inspiration for his character and his inspiring strength of will?

Falcio is a grown man - hurt, cynical, and overcome with the rage and grief that comes from the tragedies that he’s experience. But there’s still an eight year-old boy inside him, the one that raised his fist and swore to become a hero like the Greatcoats of old, who wants to protect the people he loves and make the world a fairer place. I think it’s a very normal state of being for many of us. For me, part of the inspiration was that we tend to become more conservative after our twenties and to see idealists as somehow deluded or self-aggrandizing. But when you become aware of this in yourself you have to ask, am I a wiser person who is thinking for myself? Or am I simply becoming the products of my own fears. What I love about Falcio is the way that idealist inside him is always fighting for dominance against the darker side of his nature.

Q: Can you tell us an interesting and little known fact about the development of Traitor's Blade?

In the very first draft of the book, the entire sequence set in Rijou was cut out. They arrived, they saw the opening of the Blood Week, and then we jumped to the next day when they found the girl and left. I had always known the key parts of the Rijou storyline, but I didn’t feel I had the skill and pacing during the first draft to write it. It took me a couple of years to get that part right.

Q: The Greatcoats are a group of elite swordsmen, tasked with maintaining justice in Tristia, although at the start of the book they have lost power and are generally reviled. I still want to become a Greatcoat though, and was more than a little jealous when a character gets to join them in the story. Can you please tell us Five Requirements of Becoming a Greatcoat?
  1. Almost every Greatcoat experienced a tremendous personal tragedy at some point in their lives - something that gives them a strong enough reason to commit their lives to bringing some small measure of justice to the country. Kest is the only mentioned exception in the books.
  2. Because the nation of Tristia has a strong cultural tradition of trial by combat, every Greatcoat has to master a duelling weapon in order to be ready to defend their verdict against a Lord’s champion.
  3. Every Greatcoat swears an oath when accepting their coat of office, but the oath is different for every person and they themselves have to make it up themselves. So rather than making grand pronouncements, the oaths are often very simple and personal.
  4. Greatcoats are not supposed to bow to anyone including the King himself. This drives the nobles and clergy a little nuts sometimes.
  5. Every Greatcoat must learn to sing the common songs of the land in order to be able to set their verdicts to those simple melodies so that people will remember them.
Q: With the Greatcoats singing their laws and judgements to make them more memorable, I was wondering if their songs have a particular melody in your head or if there is a song that embodies the style of their songs as you imagine it?

It wasn’t a single melody, but a lot of the 18th century British sailing songs came to mind when I was writing the book. The easiest songs to remember tend to be the kind of simple folk melodies that are often found in drinking songs. Without this fact, Brasti would have had a terribly difficult time remembering them!

Thank you so much for your time Sebastien! I hope everyone will check out this book and love it as much as I did!

My pleasure. I love hearing from people who enjoy the book so feel free to drop me a tweet at @decastell

I feel like I need to comment just a bit more on this interview, first because Sebastien's answer on fencing and fight choreography was so fascinating!  I plan to re-read some of the fight sequences just to really analyze how it was written (I was too caught up in the action the first time!)  Also, even though I still want to join the Greatcoats, I can do without the whole great personal tragedy thing (though it makes for great character development in the book).  But then I don't mind being like Kest!   And I do have my Greatcoat seal -

And you can get one too, by visiting the Greatcoat Seal Generator on the author's website!  I wish my weapon was something sleeker and more refined than an axe, but I just can't get away from the fact that I would prefer having a weapon that is deadly but also helps me survive in the wild.  It's good to be practical!

Thank you for reading, and please check out Traitor's Blade if it sounds like your kind of read!

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  1. The oath part sounds so cool, I hope we get to hear more greatcoats take their oath.

    I really need to re-read those right scenes as well.

  2. Oh I'm so glad Rachel! I think you would enjoy this, so I hope you get to read it soon! And what was the weapon in your seal? I may have a case of weapon envy here with these seals! LOL

  3. The oaths are such a great idea - it's a great way to reveal a lot about each character! And I know right! :D I think a reread is in order for me anyways - I feel like there will be more to appreciate about this book on the second read!

  4. Crossbow! :D Here it is: http://decastell.com/wp-content/plugins/viralquizbuilder/uploads/result_images/7595312dd9baf4037025366a976eb5fe.jpeg I LOOOOVE mine!

  5. Yup, definitely weapon envy here! Archery is so cool! :D And the color is so pretty!

  6. Wow, this interview was great! Great questions, Charlene. His response about how he wrote the fencing scenes gives a lot of insight into the time, effort, thought he put into making this book an enjoyable time for the reader. I am checking to see if my library has this one right now!!

  7. Thank Alyssaz! The fencing part of this book is really well done, so I was so glad to get more insight into how he writes them. I hope your library has this book! If not maybe you can request they get it!

  8. The moment I read Sebastien's answer about fencing, I had to pop over to your review both to read the synopsis and the review itself! I'm completely sold on this, Charlene! I especially like the sound of Tristia and its corruption preventing it from advancing. And great questions! I love hearing about inspiration and ideas more than anything else in interviews. :) I'm off to get my own seal!