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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Ash And Sand Trilogy's End Interview with Richard Nell (interviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website
Order Kings Of Heaven over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings Of Paradise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings Of  Ash
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings Of Heaven
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The God King's Legacy
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Richard Nell
Read Fantasy Book Critic's The God King's Legacy Cover Reveal Q&A with Richard Nell

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Richard, many congratulations on the recent addition to your family. How’s life treating you?

RN: Thank you! Life is excellent. Also I think I’m coming right up on the historical average lifespan for a human male. So, I’m about to beat the stats.

Q] With the release of Kings Of Heaven today, this marks the end of your debut trilogy. That’s a massive achievement and as you noted also has more words than the LOTR trilogy. What are your thoughts since you began in this world from 2013?

RN: Whew. Well. Obsession can be useful. It’s a good personal lesson not to force things, but rather find something you enjoy (or love to hate) and follow it to the very end. It’s a bit like running a marathon or climbing a mountain, I suppose. You just don’t know what you’re capable of until you push yourself to some extreme. That’s what writing this trilogy has been for me.

Q] What began as a simple clash of cultures evolved into so much more? It was a treatise on the human condition, nature of politics and just how enigmatic a character Ruka is? What would you say in your opinion was the true focus of the trilogy?

RN: Everything is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and the books have many themes. I’ve certainly noticed over the years different themes will resonate with me depending more on where I am in life, rather than the story. But for me, right now, the ultimate exploration of the trilogy is this: how can anyone truly improve their world? I think I found a few answers to that in the writing, and I just hope a few others do too.


Q] Many writers are pantsers and some outline extensively. You are a mix to a degree, however during the writing process of Kings Of Heaven. What twist surprised you even though you had outlined it?

RN: Oh dear, let me try to avoid spoilers. Let’s just say a certain character dies much earlier than I anticipated, forcing me to pants like I’ve never pantsed before, until sanity returned. If any reader predicts this twist before they arrive, I salute you.

Q] We never quite get any idea as to who was Ruka’s father? Infact in the entire series, it never gets mentioned much. With the Ascomi culture being a matriarchal one, this isn’t surprising but I was wondering if Ruka ever thought about it?

RN: Poor Brand. He deserves his own story, in a way, but you’re right, he doesn’t get much thought or attention. Indeed Ruka thinks of him with something approaching contempt - as a man who didn’t have the strength to overcome his culture and circumstances. This is quite callous, and not very fair. But many sons judge their fathers harshly, particularly those who are not pleased with the hand life dealt them.

Q] Turns out Bukayag wasn’t just a figment of Ruka’s imagination as the previous two books, we weren’t really clear about it. With this ending, we still don’t quite realize what exactly Bukayag is? Would you be able to talk about Bukayag and what he is?

RN: What indeed. I think we all recognize our thoughts and actions are not entirely in our control. Whether it’s Freud’s ‘unconscious’, or (perhaps more pertinently), the Jungian ‘shadow’, there are forces working on our psyche that are not very civilized, and often not good for us. I suspect the more dangerous the man, the more dangerous the shadow. And Ruka is a very dangerous man.

Q] Arun/Eka is such an enigmatic character and we never quite get the hang of how and where he gets his powers from? Can you talk a bit about what drives him and about his origins?

RN: What drives Arun are the same human impulses that drive us all - ambition, greed, loyalty, lust, fear, meaning, etc. It’s fair to say the Batonian monks (whom Arun comes from) are a somewhat mysterious group. Ultimately, they are the creation of Ando - a being of tremendous power. How is Ando so powerful? Well, that’s one of those questions, like ‘why does the universe exist?’ Perhaps there is an answer, but it seems unanswerable by us mere mortals.

Q] My favourite character is Dala and she gets quite some exciting action in this final book especially after her smaller role in Kings Of Ash. As you had mentioned that originally she had a much miniscule role. What would you say about her character arc and her role in this trilogy?

RN: That damn Dala. At first I just wanted an important female POV in the land of ash. The matriarchy and several aspects of feminine power in such a society needed to be contended with to really tell the story properly. But in the end, in many ways, Dala was the glue that held her people together - the ‘soft’ power behind the iron fisted Runeshaman. Like the rest of us, she had her flaws, but perhaps was more comfortable with that than she should have been.


Q] Can you please explain Ruka’s Grove mechanics to us?

RN: Some things are better left to imagination…

Q] Kings Of Ash begins in the past and follows two split timelines. Some readers found it confusing, especially at the beginning of the book. Now, Ruka's intricate and integral backstory deserved it, but how difficult was it to pull it off? Would you change anything?

RN: A fine question. I’m not sure I would change anything, or maybe more accurately, I’m not sure how I’d do it. The series could have been completely done chronologically, for example, with Ruka and Farahi’s stories going first, until Kale’s began. But it would have changed how we experienced the world and especially the conflict - and in a word, it might have been a little dull.

Q] Now that the series has wrapped, can you talk about how it conformed to your earliest plans? Did anything about the ending surprise you?

RN: As it concerns endings, I am definitely a plotter. I knew vaguely how the series would end before I’d finished book 1. There were all kinds of little details and character developments and so forth, but I knew how the big battles would go. The depth of material in the epilogue definitely surprised me, and the possibilities thereafter…

Q] I’m curious about the sources—fantasy books or otherwise—that informed the series in its conception and in the writing. Can you point to anything that helped you get a handle on particular aspects of the plot/world-building/etc.?

RN: The list is legion and too vast to cover here. For world-building, history is always my primary source, and the cultures in Ash and Sand are a mix and match of real kingdoms, tribes, and empires from Scandinavia to Indonesia. In terms of literary influences, if you were to suggest you detected notes of James Clavell’s Shogun, Thomas HarrisSilence of the Lambs, and some of the epic works of David Gemmell, I’m sure I’d be pleased to agree.

Q] Between the last chapter and the epilogue, there’s quite a lot of time jump. While for the book’s purpose, it worked perfectly. Can you reveal what happened and what your plans are for the future?

RN: This came as something of a surprise to me, but it turns out the Ash and Sand universe has a lot more potential. I’ll be writing at least one book to cover that time-jump. And let’s just say, there’s more to come for fans of the series.


Q] The cover for Kings Of Heaven is my favourite of the trilogy. The colour palette is so striking and is just perfect for the plot within. Which cover is your favourite among the three & why?

RN: It’s my favorite, too. The artist (Derek Murphy) really outdid himself. I think the three covers side by side look great, I need to make posters or something.

Q] You have given us a prequel novella omnibus with The God King’s Legacy. What are your plans for the God King chronicles, when can readers expect to read the first book?

RN: There’s an entire trilogy imagined in the God King universe! Fans of the Ash and Sand series will find these books are in fact connected, though how is something they’ll have to read about when the time comes. I think it’s fair to say the first God King novel could arrive at the end of 2021.

Q] Now that you have finished this massively complex undertaking. What are you writing currently? What will be your next release?

RN: I’ll be finishing a spin-off book from the Ash and Sand series next, as yet untitled, and spoilery by its very existence so I’ll leave it at that. Along with another couple writers I’m also working on a ‘gamebook’ - sort of a collection of choose-your-own-adventure stories. It’s called ‘The Living Library’ and you can find it on the google or apple stores on your phone or tablet. Yeah, writers make apps now. Welcome to 2020.

Q] Thank you very much for your time and for answering our questions. Any parting thoughts for your fans and what they can look forward to with Kings Of Heaven?

RN: I’m very pleased with Kings Of Heaven. Ruka has been haunting my mind for six years, telling me to run more, edit faster, and mostly just to ‘get out of bed and be useful, you lazy little thing.’ He’s a little quieter now. I like to think its approval. Thank you very much for the support, dear readers, and I hope you enjoy the finale.

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