Today I am interviewing Rachel Dunne, author of the new epic fantasy novel, In the Shadow of the Gods, the first book in the Bound Gods series.
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DJ: Hey Rachel! Thanks for stopping by to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Rachel Dunne: I’m happy to be here! I’m a debut author, with In the Shadow of the Gods out for a few weeks now, but I’ve been writing my whole life. It’s just a part of who I am, so actually having a book published is a dream come true. I live in the Midwest, which means I spend a lot of time indoors, but I’ve got a giant dog who keeps me on my toes.
DJ: What is the In the Shadow of the Gods about?
RD: The basis for the story is that, centuries ago, a pair of gods called the Twins were cast down and locked away. There are two groups in the world they left behind: one group trying to free the Twins, and the other trying to make sure they stay locked away. The story follows a few people from each of these groups, and there’s a lot of grey morality—there’s no good or bad side, and sometimes it’s not even clear which side each character is on.
DJ: What is the world of In the Shadow of the Gods like?
RD: Most of the story takes place in Fiatera, which isn’t necessarily the happiest country: threads of a long-standing religious combat run throughout the country, and even though this combat isn’t always violent, it creates tension. Religion is, therefore, a big part of what shapes the country. The majority of the population worship the Parents, but there’s a cult-like following for their outcast children, the Twins, and these two related religions are constantly at odds. Fiatera is also pretty unique (especially among fantasy novels) in that there’s no real patriarchy or matriarchy—there’s genuine equality of genders, which makes for some interactions and situations that wouldn’t be found in many other books that do have some sort of gender-based ruling society. There’s another part of Fiatera that used to be its own country, the Tashat Highlands, which is where mages come from and are trained—I can’t say too much about the Highlands here, since I’ll be exploring its history a little more in future books, but it’s hopefully an interesting question why this whole culture of powerful mages has chosen to become part of a country that’s objectively weaker than them.
DJ: What were some of your influences for In the Shadow of the Gods?
RD: Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie have always been some of my favorite writers, so they definitely had some influence on the grimdark tone of the book. But the lyrical, descriptive nature of In the Shadow of the Gods was really inspired by Guy Gavriel Kay, who has such a beautiful style of writing. When I started writing this book, I’d just finished reading Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy for the first time, and right after that started a re-read of Tigana—and I think In the Shadow of the Gods is a good melding of those two very different styles.
DJ: In the Shadow of the Gods is told with multiple POV characters. Could you briefly tell us a little about these main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
RD: There are four main POV characters: Scal, who’s an outsider no matter where he goes, and a very skilled fighter even though he’s kind of a pacifist at heart. His voice is very different from the others’, using sentence fragments and long, descriptive sentences; he also doesn’t use any contractions, which was surprisingly challenging to write. Rora has spent her whole life doing whatever she needs to to keep herself and her brother alive, so whenever anything happens, her first instinct is always to do whatever will keep them safe, no matter the consequences. Joros wants power, he wants to win, and he’s willing to take long odds on something turning out to his advantage in the end—but when things change, he has no hesitation in switching sides…or, at least, he hides all of his hesitations really well. Keiro is, on the surface, the simplest of all the characters: he just wants to be happy, and one of the things that makes him happiest is walking, the simple joy of an open road. There’s a lot more to him than that, of course, and he doesn’t often get his simple happiness, but he might have the most relatable journey.
DJ: Throughout the majority of the story, these POV characters are in separate locations in the world of In the Shadow of the Gods and are on different storylines. As the books synopsis says, at one point in the story, a majority of these characters come together, to the same location and storyline. I have always wondered, when this situation occurs, how do authors decided which POV to tell each scene from? Do you ever write one scene from one POV and then decided to change it to another?
RD: This is probably the hardest part of writing multiple POVs when the characters are in the same location. I spent a lot of time outlining, figuring out which events needed to be from certain characters’ POVs, what had to happen between all those events and who was most important in those, balancing everything to make sure I didn’t have two Rora chapters in a row or go a dozen chapters without hearing from Keiro. I wrote out notecards and spent a night rearranging chapters on my floor, shuffling around events, changing things here and there. It’s a lot like a balancing act, and I just have to hope I’ve gotten the balance right. There’s one particular scene I’ve gotten a few questions about already, near the end of the book, where (without getting too spoilery) a particular character’s storyline comes full-circle…and the climax of that storyline is told from a different character’s POV. I’m sure it seems like a strange choice from the outside, because the big event would have to be an emotional goldmine, right? My argument is that all the emotional stuff happens before the big event, and does happen from that particular character’s POV; all the lead-up is the important part, the big event is just the inevitable conclusion. Some people like this, and some don’t—just more proof that this balancing act isn’t easy! I’ve got a folder full of half-written scenes before I realized that section should actually be from a different POV, which means rewriting the whole scene or chapter—I can usually keep the bones of the scene, but each POV has such a different voice that I can rarely just copy-and-paste into a different POV.
DJ: What I think I loved most about In the Shadow of the Gods was that each POV characters’ chapters took place in an entirely different location and atmosphere – these being Mount Raturo, the Canals, and the North. Could you tell the readers a bit about each of these areas?
RD: Glad to hear you liked this! Writing the different locations was one of my favorite parts—each place has such a unique flavor that just helps support each character. Mount Raturo is the headquarters of the religion that follows the Twins, a very unnatural mountain that (legend has it) was made by one of the Twins before they were cast out. The mountain is hollowed out and only very lightly lit: since these people want the Twins to pull down the sun, it seems only fair they live without light. It’s a very atmospheric place, dark literally and figuratively. The Canals are under Fiatera’s capitol city, a whole underworld made from a failed water-delivery system. The poorest of the poor live in the Canals, driven out of the city proper, but the canals are also populated by gangs of thieves and other unsavory folks. It’s an actively hostile place to live, especially if you don’t have the protection of one of the gangs, and this setting really helps underscore why Rora is the way she is. The North is also pretty hostile, but more because of the environment rather than the people…although, to be fair, the people there aren’t exactly the most friendly either. The North is a wintry wasteland, populated only by the hardy Northmen, who have adapted well to life there, but they’re just as unforgiving as the environment. It’s a place of blowing snow and towering ice cliffs, the very definition of harsh beauty.
DJ: My personal favorite of these locations was the Northmen with where and what exactly they lived on. My jaw dropped in awe (and heart skipped a beat in fear) when I pictured what that would look like. What is this epic piece of landscape? (Because I’m sure you can descried it better than me) And where did you get the idea for it?
RD: The home of one of the tribes of Northmen is really a great description for the Northmen themselves. There’s a cliff made half of ice, probably as old as the world itself, and through some quirk of nature, there’s a shelf of ice sticking straight out from the cliff at a 90-degree angle. The shelf is big enough to hold a small village…and it does, since the Northmen live on top of it. It’s both brave and incredibly stupid, but since the shelf has stood like that for living memory, why shouldn’t it continue holding? Like I said, their home is a lot like the Northmen themselves: defying nature to tell them they can’t, brave even in the face of death, never backing down from a challenge. This location started a little like a joke, actually—I was originally going to have the village be at the center of a frozen lake, but that didn’t seem hardcore enough…normal ice is nothing for these Northmen to fear! They wouldn’t even be scared of ice floating in the air! And that image just got stuck in my brain, and became something I could actually work with, and that fit the situation so well.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing the In the Shadow of the Gods?
RD: The characters, definitely, and being able to make them each so unique—from their separate journeys, to their different voices. Even the characters I hate just a little bit are still fun to write in their own ways, and that’s an amazing thing.
DJ: I have already told you what some aspects of the story that are still on my minds, but what do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
RD: My biggest hope is that the book leaves people not sure who they’re rooting for, or even rooting for both sides to win, because the book is very much not black and white. There’s so much grey area in real life, and In the Shadow of the Gods really lives in that grey area. Each character does good and bad things, gets rewarded for behaving badly and punished for doing the right thing, makes bad choices that turn out okay. There really aren’t any heroes or villains, just people doing what they think is best, and I hope readers embrace that.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing the Bound Gods series? In the Shadow of the Gods is only the first book, so the series is obviously not complete yet, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across to readers when the story is finally told?
RD: One of the biggest themes, especially as I continue writing the sequels, is identity. It’s something a lot of the POV characters struggle with: where do they fit into the world, and what happens when they don’t like who they’ve become? How much does the past shape a person, and can people really change? There’s so much to explore, and so many different ways to do it with all of these unique characters, and I’m hoping it’s something that really resonates with readers. The different characters will be bringing up lots of questions about themselves that I’m sure most people have thought at one time or another.
DJ: Something thing I did not find out, until after I finished the book, was that In the Shadow of the Gods was a semi-finalist for the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and was then picked by Harper Voyager. Could probably do a whole set of questions on that alone, so without taking up too much more of your time, how was that experience? Where hoping to get picked up from a publisher, like Harper Voyager, from it?
RD: It was a crazy experience, that’s for sure. I never expected to make it as far as I did (top 25 of the original 10,000 entries), so I was ecstatic, even though I didn’t get the big prize of a publishing contract. After the contest ended for me, I planned to finish the whole series in my spare time, to get published once I had the trilogy finished, so I’d kind of put the thought of publishing on the back burner. I never expected anything else to come from the contest, much less a contract with an amazing publisher like Harper Voyager. Pretty much up until release day, the whole thing felt a lot like a dream that I expected to wake up from at any minute.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from In the Shadow of the Gods that you can share with us? I’m guessing it’s going to be something from Kerro? 😉
RD: Scal and Keiro are definitely the most quotable for me—they have the “prettiest” way of viewing the world. Some of my favorite quotes are too spoilery to share, but a few clean quotes:
“She had listened to him beneath the stars that were strung so beautifully above the mountain peaks, for she had a quick mind that wanted to learn all the world would give her.”
“The words were trapped in him. Hard in his throat. So many things in all his lives he had never said. Too late, now. Always too late. There was a breaking here. A fracture in a slab of ice, spidering slowly but unstoppably outwards. There was an ending waiting for him, somewhere.”
DJ: Now that the In the Shadow of the Gods is released, what is next for you?
RD: I turned in the sequel to my editor recently, so we’ll be working on those edits over the next few months, so that Book 2 is ready for its planned release in mid-June of 2017. In the meantime, I’m working on the third book, tying together all the loose ends, and hopefully giving a satisfying conclusion!
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
RD: Thanks so much for having me on! It’s been a pleasure!
DJ: You are welcome! Glad you have fun! 🙂 And thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** In the Shadow of the Gods is published by Harper Voyager and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Nook
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About the Book:
A breathtaking talent makes her debut with this first book in a dark epic fantasy trilogy, in which a mismatched band of mortals, led by violent, secretive man, must stand against a pair of resentful gods to save their world.
Eons ago, a pair of gods known as the “Twins” grew powerful in the world of Fiatera, until the Divine Mother and Almighty Father exiled them, binding them deep in the earth. But the price of keeping the fire-lands safe is steep. To prevent these young gods from rising again, all twins in the land must be killed at birth, a safeguard that has worked, until now.
Trapped for centuries, the Twins are gathering their latent powers to break free and destroy the Parents for their tyranny—a fight between two generations of gods for control of the world and the mortals who dwell in it.
When the gods make war, only one side can be victorious. Joros, a mysterious and cunning priest, has devised a dangerous plan to win. Over eight years, he gathers a team of disparate fighters—Scal, a lost and damaged swordsman from the North; Vatri, a scarred priestess who claims to see the future in her fires; Anddyr, a drug-addled mage wandering between sanity and madness; and Rora and Aro, a pair of twins who have secretly survived beyond the reach of the law.
These warriors must learn to stand together against the unfathomable power of vengeful gods, to stop them from tearing down the sun . . . and plunging their world into darkness.
Living in the cold reaches of the upper Midwest with her great beast of a dog, Rachel Dunne has developed a great fondness for indoor activities. For as long as snow continues falling in Wisconsin, she promises to stay inside and keep writing.
Her first novel, In the Shadow of the Gods, was a semi-finalist for the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and will be published by Harper Voyager in June of 2016. Its two sequels will follow.