Today I am interviewing Isabelle Steiger, debut author of The Empire’s Ghost, the first book in a new epic fantasy series.
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DJ: Hey Isabelle! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Isabelle Steiger: This is the very first piece of writing I’ve ever gotten published, so I don’t imagine many readers are familiar with me. I was born in New York City, and I moved back there when I started college, after a ten-year stint in the country. When I was a kid, I used to take a notebook up to the highest hill by my house to write, but these days the diner on the corner serves just as well.
DJ: What is The Empire’s Ghost about?
Isabelle: A dictator calling himself Imperator Elgar has already conquered half of the continent of Lantistyne, but he won’t rest until he rules it all. He’s determined to recreate Elesthene, a continent-spanning empire that history paints as both majestic and terrifying. The novel follows the struggles of two different groups of people: the rulers of the countries Elgar has yet to conquer, who are desperate to find a way to defeat him, and a found family of not-quite-law-abiding commoners trying to keep themselves and each other safe after Elgar decides he wants to use their skills for his own ends.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Empire’s Ghost and the series as a whole?
Isabelle: Fantastic worlds that feel like they’ve existed for centuries before the author decided to tell this particular story—the works of Patrick Rothfuss, George R. R. Martin, Garth Nix, and Tamora Pierce come most easily to mind, though I’m sure I could think of many others.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them?
Isabelle: My commoners consist of: a swindler, a mercenary, two bandits, a perfectly legitimate small business owner, thank you very much, and a teenage runaway named Seth who’s more or less been adopted by the rest of them. (There’s also a talented young pickpocket, but they haven’t quite let her into the club yet.) Though many of these characters’ actions overstep the boundaries of legality, I hope readers will be drawn to the genuine affection and loyalty they feel for one another. They live in a world that makes it difficult enough just to look out for yourself, but even though they often disagree about the right thing to do in a particular situation (or about whether doing “the right thing” matters at all), they’re determined to do right by one another.
As for the royals, they’ve been raised from birth to understand that they will one day have a great effect on their world. It’s one thing to stand against Elgar’s dreams of empire, but even if they defeat him, what will they put in its place? Their struggle is to determine their own vision for the future of their world, and what they’re willing to do in service to that vision. But just as each character will come to a different answer, I expect each reader will be drawn to some over others.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Empire’s Ghost like?
Isabelle: For many generations, the continent of Lantistyne was synonymous with the Elesthenian Empire, a bloodline-obsessed oligarchy with repressive religious requirements. In the novel’s present, the continent has been split up into different countries. Though all the countries save one share a common past as parts of the former empire, they have rebuilt in different ways and experience different levels of prosperity. (The one exception is Aurnis, which was founded by refugees who only arrived in Lantistyne a century ago.) So, for example, Issamira is so rich in unique culture because its people were historically most resistant to imperial religion and social norms, and Esthrades is so prosperous because it has been ruled for centuries by a shrewd and iconoclastic noble family, the Margraines, who have been carefully shaping its future across generations. But Valyanrend, the former capital of Elesthene, fell into anarchy after the empire’s dissolution, and it and the lands around it have been subject to one tyrant after another—Elgar, while the most ambitious to date, is the latest in a long line.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Empire’s Ghost?
Isabelle: I loved determining how this world’s history and culture have shaped its people, in both large and small ways, though I suppose more of that took place in the planning stage than in the writing stage. When it comes to the actual writing, I get an extra kick out of crafting scenes in which characters with different worldviews or moral stances crash into each other and then are forced to reckon with each other.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Isabelle: I made sure to plant a lot of clues regarding questions that remain unanswered in the first book, so I hope careful readers will have plenty of theories to compare.
DJ: Now that The Empire’s Ghost is released, what is next for you?
Isabelle: I’m in the middle of writing the sequel as we speak!
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is the one thing you’d like readers to know about The Empire’s Ghost that we haven’t talked about yet?
Isabelle: Lantistyne was not primarily inspired by medieval England, and the characters don’t sound British in my head. While there is occasional use of the word bloody for the sake of variety in cursing, you will note that no one ever says arse.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Isabelle: Thanks for having me!
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*** The Empire’s Ghost is published by Thomas Dunne and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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An epic fantasy debut, The Empire’s Ghost weaves together the lives of the haves and the have-nots both desperately fighting to reassemble the remains of a fallen empire.
The empire of Elesthene once spanned a continent, but its rise heralded the death of magic. It tore itself apart from within, leaving behind a patchwork of kingdoms struggling to rebuild. But when a new dictator, the ambitious and enigmatic Imperator Elgar, seizes power in the old capital and seeks to recreate the lost empire anew, the other kingdoms have little hope of stopping him. Prince Kelken of Reglay finds himself at odds with his father at his country’s darkest hour; the marquise of Esthrades is unmatched in politics and strategy, but she sits at a staggering military disadvantage. And Issamira, the most powerful of the free countries, has shut itself off from the conflict, thrown into confusion by the disappearance of its crown prince and the ensuing struggle for succession.
Everything seems aligned in Elgar’s favor, but when he presses a band of insignificant but skilled alley-dwellers into his service for a mission of the greatest secrecy, they find an unexpected opportunity to alter the balance of power in the war. Through their actions and those of the remaining royals, they may uncover not just a way to defeat Elgar, but also a deeper truth about their world’s lost history.
Isabelle Steiger has crafted a powerful and masterful debut with The Empire’s Ghost, the first book in a haunting new epic fantasy series.
Isabelle Steiger read her first novel at age five: THE BOXCAR CHILDREN, discovered on a shelf in her kindergarten classroom. By about page twenty, she’d decided upon two things: This is my favorite thing I’ve ever done, and When I grow up, I’m going to make these.She stands by those decisions to this day.