Welcome to Track of Words presents Rapid Fire, the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of quick interviews with Black Library authors focusing in on brand new releases. As the name suggests, these interviews are going to be short and sweet, with the idea being that I’m going to ask more or less the same questions to each author – by the end of each interview I hope you will have a good idea of what the new book (or audio drama) is about, what inspired it and why you might want to read it.
In this first instalment I asked Ian St. Martin about his new novel Lucius: The Faultless Blade, which you can pick up online and in bookstores now. Without further ado, over to Ian.
ToW: What’s the elevator pitch summary for Lucius: The Faultless Blade?
ISM: That’s a good question. Looking back on its genesis I could say it was a bunch of things. Essentially it is Lucius the Eternal, being brought front and center in the 40k universe for the first time. You could also say it is a book about loss, addiction, decay and coping with mortality. Or you could say it is a book that tells the story of how Lucius got a certain piece of accouterment that is part of his established character (I won’t say which piece, read the book!). Faultless Blade is all of those things.
ToW: We all know we shouldn’t judge books by covers, but the Lie Setiawan art for the cover is fantastic – how do you think it represents the book? Are you happy with it?
ISM: Oh sweet heavens, that cover. I don’t think I will ever be able to convey just how grateful I am for Lie Setiawan and the work he put in on the cover. In a cynical, realpolitik sense, I know that an amazing cover, one that catches the eye of a casual observer, will sell books far more than my name. As I told him before, the world should absolutely judge my book by his cover.
As for whether it represents the book, in my opinion it definitely does. We provided him with a blurb about what we wanted to see, based upon a scene from the book. Luckily I was able to see the cover while I was still writing the book, so certain aesthetic elements, like the crazy barbed spears that fill the background, could be directly integrated into Faultless Blade. I hope readers reach that point in the story and flick back and forth to the cover to see it in all its glory.
ToW: Without spoiling anything, who are the main characters and what do we need to know about them?
ISM: Well, I’m fairly certain we already know about Lucius, master of the Cohors Nasicae warband, so we’ll focus on a few of the supporting cast:
- Cesare: The stoic Apothecary, a member of the Emperor’s Children since their founding who has seen the Legion rise and fall many times over.
- Clarion: A Neverborn in the body of a young girl who commands Lucius’ warship, the Diadem.
- Krysithius: One of Lucius’ lieutenants and a former Palatine Blade.
- The Composer: A Chaos sorcerer, hated by all the Cohors Nasicae but suffered by Lucius as a necessary evil.
- Vispyrtilo: Known as the Last Eagle King, and chieftain of the Rypax Raptor cult.
Those are just a few, and each of them has a key role to play in Faultless Blade.
ToW: Where and when is it set?
ISM: Chronologically, Faultless Blade is set prior to the current 40k timeline, before Guilliman’s rebirth and the dawn of the Great Rift. As to where, it primarily takes place in the Eye of Terror, with maybe a few other locations, like a Dark Eldar gladiatorial circus.
ToW: Is there anything that you’d recommend readers check out before reading this?
ISM: I feel that listening to The Embrace of Pain audio drama [click here for a review] would be time well spent, as it showcases some of the main characters, like Clarion, and establishes some tension between Lucius and his lieutenant Krysithius that may develop further in the book.Plus there is a brief mention of statues on the hull of the Diadem, which may or may not come up again in the book.
ToW: Why this story? What made you want to write about Lucius, and this tale in particular?
ISM: Lucius is an attractive character for me to write for many reasons. First of all, I do not have to worry about comparisons to another writer’s work on the character, at least in the 40k timeline (I have 10,000 years of separation from Graham McNeill’s phenomenal Heresy-era work). If I wrote about Khârn for instance, there would be a bunch of fabulously superior authors who have already worked with him, but for Lucius, it is more wide open and so I gravitated to the situation that would provide the most options to me as a storyteller. I also feel that the character gets a bit of a bad rap overall, overlooked for being silly or one-note, and so that offered a challenge to try and give him depth and maybe surprise a reader or two that there is more to him than they first thought.
Once I decided on Lucius, that then dictated and informed on the story to tell. I read everything I could about him and wrote down the questions that popped in my head as I did. The main thoughts that I found compelling about him were about what his personal stakes were. What is he afraid of? Since death doesn’t hold the same risk for him as it does for anyone else, what does? And why exactly was Lucius made the Eternal in the first place? Pulling that thread formed the core of the story I want to tell, beginning in Faultless Blade.
ToW: What were your main influences when writing this? Did you draw upon any real-life experience to help you plan or write it?
ISM: I tend to have a pretty scattered set of influences for my work. I’m basically a sponge for creative efforts that I convert into fuel so I read and watch lots of different things. Of course there are the reliable stand-bys, like Bernard Cornwell or those disgustingly talented so and so’s John French and Aaron Dembski-Bowden, but for this one my research also included psychology articles and textbooks, accounts of addiction from an anecdotal and chemical perspective, and a bunch of other various and sundry items. As someone who lives with diagnosed mental illness personally, I’m sure smatterings of that make it into all of my work whether I like it or not.
Interestingly enough, I found the Joker of comic book fame to be a bit of a creative influence on my portrayal of Lucius. The sort of broken, deranged laughing man with the constant threat of hair-trigger violence had a lot of parallels with how I see Lucius.
ToW: How does the final product compare to your original concept? Has anything changed much from your first ideas?
ISM: I am pretty lucky with Faultless Blade, in that it never got the massive overhaul during production that can sometimes happen. The biggest change I made was my own decision, and that was to reduce the size of the supporting cast. I ended up cutting a handful of character ideas I liked because it was very important to me that each of the characters had something to do in the book that had an impact on the story, and weren’t just throwaways or there for whimsy.
Besides, those characters could always be slotted into a sequel, if Faultless Blade sells well enough to merit one.
ToW: How does this story compare to the rest of your work? Is it a familiar style, or a departure?
ISM: I think I am still at a point where I am honing my craft and getting a handle on my ‘voice’ or whichever pretentious artistic term you want to use. Styles can shift over time, but as long as people think my pacing is solid and the story has enjoyable characters they like enough to want to read more of my work, I will be overjoyed.
ToW: Do you have plans to continue any aspects of this story, or is it a standalone piece?
ISM: The plan is that Faultless Blade is book one in a trilogy, and I certainly wrote the ending with more in mind. I would also like to thread short stories between the novels, to give individual characters a bit of a spotlight. Whether that comes to pass all depends on how this book resonates with the audience and how it sells. If it does well and the powers that be feel that a sequel and more make sense, the series continues.
ToW: Speaking of short stories, as part of Black Library’s 2017 Summer of Reading campaign you’ve contributed Pride and Fall, again featuring Lucius. How does that fit in with The Faultless Blade?
ISM: Pride and Fall is really more of a standalone story, one which takes place back a ways before Faultless Blade. It tells the story of one of the earlier resurrections Lucius experiences, one that is quite unique from the others.
The idea essentially came about from my reading online forums about Lucius, where fans would discuss the sort of loopholes that they believed could override his resurrection mechanism, like being killed by artillery or a servitor or the like, something that couldn’t take satisfaction from the act of killing him.
I loved the threads, so much so that they sparked the idea for the story that became Pride and Fall in my head. Basically I wanted to demonstrate that Slaanesh is maybe a touch craftier than people give him/her/it credit for. After all, if someone takes pride in their work making something, and that something happens to kill Lucius, then that is all that’s needed. Even things like Tyranids and Necrons are driven by forces, be it hunger to consume or wrath, that motivate their actions. Fulfilling such a driving force, even on the most minute level, is satisfying, and that opens the door.
Many thanks to Ian for taking the time to answer these questions. I hope you’re now suitably enthused about Lucius: The Faultless Blade – you can also check out my review here.