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Monday, June 22, 2020

Play Of Shadows Cover Reveal Q&A with Sebastien De Castell (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Today we are glad to welcome back Sebastien De Castell as he reveals and chats about his latest gorgeous cover, his new series & what lies ahead in 2021. So read ahead to find out how Sebastien and his publishers came up with the gorgeous cover for Play Of Shadows...

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Sebastien, how have you been amidst these troubled times?

SDC: It’s lovely to be back! I’ve been fine – thanks for asking. My own experience of the pandemic has been one of privilege in so many ways: I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, where we’ve had the benefit of a tremendously well-run provincial response that has resulted in a low infection rate and low numbers of deaths. My wife and I own our house and have quiet, friendly neighbors, so spending long periods of time at home isn’t as stressful for us as it is for so many others who are faced with monumental economic, emotional, and psychological challenges during a pandemic. And then, of course, the ultimate privilege of making a living as a novelist means that I still get to spend my days doing what I love: writing new books.

Q] Firstly I would like to congratulate you on the stunningly gorgeous cover for Play Of Shadows. Can you tell us who the designer/illustrator for it is and if you had any input towards it?

SDC: I need to preface all this by saying that the situation by which the cover for PLAY OF SHADOWS came about is incredibly rare in traditional publishing. My esteemed editor, Jo Fletcher, and I discussed how much we wanted to do something different with this next series in the Greatcoats world – that we wanted to focus on typographical treatments rather than stock imagery and evoke a feeling of mystery, intrigue, and the swashbuckling spirit. I have a background in working with designers, so I commissioned a cover design firm called Miblart and wrote a cover brief for them detailing both the experience we wanted someone looking at the cover to have as well as the core elements.

They came back with an initial concept that was already on the right track, and from there it was a process of refinement back and forth until we got to the gorgeous cover you see now. I presented this to my editor who took it to the Quercus art director who also agreed it was the right direction. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how rare this type of situation is for an author to get to actually commission the cover, but Quercus was kind enough to give me a crack at it. The response from readers online was been overwhelming and tremendously gratifying!

Q] I loved the juxtaposition of the swordsman, the mask and colours within this cover. It’s not only beautiful but also hearkens to the book’s blurb. As far book covers go, this is simply spectacular. What were your first thoughts when you were presented with it?

SDC: I went back to count the number of iterations of the cover and I think we went through sixteen rounds to get to that final cover. A lot of the essence was right there on the designer’s first pass, but then came all the other refinements to every element from the borders to the shadow figure to the sword in his hand to the symbols and motifs laden throughout . . . a lot of tiny things you wouldn’t even notice on their own but put together they completely alter the feeling one has looking at the cover.

My favourite moment actually had to do with the mask: the designer had put the mask in the border, and we had the shadow figure below it. We’d never planned for the two things to connect. But I was staring at the picture on my iPad and realized how close they were, so I opened up an image editor and sat there for an hour moving things around and doing rough drawings over it to show that you could align the two elements together. I sent that back to the designers and they then made it work much better than I could do.

All those revisions can have the effect of making it so you can no longer see the forest for the trees, so I was still going back and forth on tiny details (gold border or red? Red raven design or silver? Should we change that orchid over the letter “Y” again?). That’s why it’s been so exciting to see how readers online react to the finished cover.

Q] Play Of Shadows also marks a return to the world of Greatcoats. What can you reveal about this sequel series with regards to its chronological place vis-à-vis your debut books?

SDC: Everything in The Court of Shadows (the series of which PLAY OF SHADOWS is the first book) takes place a few months after the end of TYRANT’S THRONE. The country is at peace, yet no one really knows what the future holds. The threats of civil war seem to have died down, yet new threats are emerging whose roots go deep into Tristia’s past, connecting them to an enemy no one can yet see. This will be a series that features Greatcoats and Bardatti, Dashini and Rangieri, and new, previously unknown orders whose origins we have yet to discover.

Q] Play Of Shadows is also about the stage and theater as much as it is about hidden secrets. What was the main inception/driving force for this story?

SDC: I’m fascinated by that strange intersection of things that people don’t entirely believe in but kind of believe in. For example, few of us believe in predicting the future, but when someone pulls out a tarot card for us or says they had a dream about us we can’t help but think that maybe something they reveal will come true. Hopefully none of us believe in wishing wells, but when you toss that coin into the well, there’s a part of you that clings to the possibility it may work. These semi-beliefs are compelling to me as a writer, and I’m always looking to find that ambiguity in the cultures I create for my books. So I spend a lot of time concocting cultural practices that don't exist but could exist. For example:

- what if a culture believed that you needed to put a frame made out of rowan wood around a painting that has devils in it to keep them trapped inside?

- What about a city with a rich theatrical tradition that believed that some actors become so ingrained in a part that they – perhaps, just a little – channel the actual spirit of the character they’re playing when they take the stage?

Of course, most people would assume it was just an old superstition, yet I’d bet they’d still pay extra to see a performance by such an actor just so they could tell their friends about it. With PLAY OF SHADOWS, I took that one step further: what if you were an actor on stage playing the role of a historical villain only to suddenly find yourself witnessing the events of the story unfolding through their eyes, witnessing a truth that had long been buried to keep a ruling dynasty in power? What would you do then?

That was the origin of Damelas Shademantaigne, the grandson of two legendary Greatcoats who never wanted to be anything but a passable actor, thrust into the middle of century-old conspiracies, duels of honour, and the hunt for a shadowy court that seems to be secretly running his city.

Q] How many books are planned for the Court Of Shadows series?

SDC: The Court of Shadows will have four main novels, each of which introduces us to its own characters, followed by an “event” book in which they all come together. Readers will be able to read those first four books in any order, or even, theoretically, read the big climactic book and then go back to read the origins of the characters.

Q] Will we get to see/meet any characters from the original Greatcoats books?

SDC: Yes, though my focus is on new characters and new stories. PLAY OF SHADOWS brings back a certain mischievous Bardatti who I happen to adore who will help Damelas understand the mysterious abilities plaguing him, and there may even be an appearance by a certain roguish Greatcoat as well.

Q] Readers often have expectations of their own from their beloved authors (irrespective of the author’s own). How are you mentally preparing for your readers/fans’ eventual comparison of this new book/series to your beloved debut?

SDC: I think it helps that I went off to write the six Spellslinger books after finishing the Greatcoats because it allowed readers to feel like the Greatcoats Quartet was truly finished and that enabled them to unleash their own imaginations as to what happens next rather than feeling as if they had to wait for me to tell them.

The Court of Shadows goes deeper into the lore of the various orders of Greatcoats, Bardatti, Dashini and others, and the future of the beleaguered nation of Tristia. While there are new characters and stories, my focus as a fantasy writer still leans to swashbuckling, the redemptive power of friendship, and the desperately hard pursuit of trying to find the right thing to do in troubled times. So the underlying feeling or vibe that readers enjoyed about the Greatcoats will always be there, but the stories themselves are entirely new and go in different directions from the original quartet.

Q] How goes your writing for Way Of The Argosi? Do you have a possible release date for it?

SDC: WAY OF THE ARGOSI is finished and off to the wonderful line and copyeditor, Talya Baker at Hot Key Books! I’ve also finished the first draft of FALL OF THE ARGOSI, though that will need another pass before it’s ready. I’m not sure on the exact date of publication; the first book was originally meant to come out in April 2021, but since we’re so much farther ahead than we planned to be, I suspect it will come out sooner.

Q] Many thanks for your time Sebastien, I can’t wait to read Play Of Shadows and get to dive back into the lands of Tristia. Any parting thoughts for your fans?

SDC: Just that I’m always delighted to read your letters – getting a real, physical letter in the mail is truly a thrill for an author! But e-mails, tweets, and Instagram posts are all lovely to see and I reply to every letter or e-mail I receive (I don’t check Facebook or Twitter all that often, so I’m likely to miss those ones). Next year is going to be a rather big one for me, with three (and possibly four!) new books coming out, so I’m really looking forward to getting them into your hands.


Pre-order the book over HERE (US)HERE (UK)
Read the first chapter over here

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Damelas Shademantaigne picked a poor night to flee a judicial duel.

He has precious little hope of escaping the wrath of the Vixen, the most feared duellist in the entire city, until he stumbles through the stage doors of the magnificent Operato Belleza and tricks his way into the company of actors. An archaic law provides a temporary respite from his troubles - until one night a ghostly voice in his head causes Damelas to fumble his lines, inadvertently blurting out a dreadful truth: the city's most legendary hero may actually be a traitor and a brutal murderer.

With only the help of his boisterous and lusty friend Bereto, a beautiful assassin whose target may well be Damelas himself, and a company of misfit actors who'd just as soon see him dead, this failed son of two Greatcoats must somehow find within himself the courage to dig up long-buried truths before a ruthless band of bravos known as the Iron Orchids come for his head.

Oh, and there's still that matter of the Vixen waiting to duel him . . .

NOTE: The Greatcoats series picture courtesy of TheComicVault. All other pictures courtesy of the author himself.


Sebastien said...

Thanks for the Q&A, Mihir! I really enjoyed the questions and getting to talk about the new cover!

The Reader said...

Thank you for the answers and for your time. Always a pleasure & can't wait to read Play Of Shadows & Way Of The Argosi when they release next year :)


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