Today I am interviewing Anna Kashina, author of the new fantasy novel, Shadowblade.
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DJ: Hi Anna! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Anna Kashina: I am a fantasy author and a scientist, and I have far too many hobbies and interests, including ballroom dancing, sword fighting, world mythologies, reading, and cooking, just to name a few. I grew up in Russia, and did a lot of traveling. In my novels, I feed on all these backgrounds and experiences.
DJ: What is Shadowblade about?
Anna: It’s about a young girl who overcomes enormous odds to become an elite blademaster, only to be volunteered for a suicide mission to challenge the imperial succession. In short, the book is exactly what is promised by the cover, a fantasy with elements of romance, and hopefully a fun read.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Shadowblade?
Anna: I love multicultural elements in my books. Shadowblade is a mix of Middle Eastern and oriental. The setting has parallels with the Mogul Empire and ancient Middle East. The weapons and blade fights are influenced by both European and Eastern styles. The politics were influenced a lot by ancient China, where games of power and imperial succession have really been elevated into state of the art. It was a really fun mix to work with.
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 with sympathize with them?
Anna: Naia, the main heroine, is an unpolished and willful young girl who has an unusual talent for weapons, but manages to rub everyone the wrong way. She starts off in a very bad place, and works her way up to the top entirely on her own merit. Sometimes she can do amazing things on the training range, but at all other times she tends to be quirky and awkward, especially with her superiors. She is also fearless in her beliefs and in standing up for what’s right, which is what gets her in trouble in the first place. I hope there is a lot to sympathize with. The way she grows throughout the book felt really gratifying for me.
Karrim, the top blade in the elite Jaihar Order, has a notorious reputation with women. He is also sassy, and cocky – but so amazing in a blade fight. People talk about him so much that it takes extra effort to see underneath all this facade to the man inside, with all his layers and contrasts. I believe these contrasts are what makes him so compelling.
And then there is Mehtab, a senior scholar and Naia’s tutor, who constantly surprised me throughout the book. I can’t really say more, for fear of spoilers, but she is definitely one of the most interesting characters in the book.
DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role in the story? Why?
Anna: I really enjoyed Sage Yakkab, the Grand Vizier to the Emperor, who has the power and the presence of mind to keep the Empire together under a very bad rule. His part comes mostly at the end of the story, where he starts off with strong misgivings about the whole plot, and then, at the very end, makes a key decision that really changes the whole game. I loved many things about him, especially his humor, his high moral standards, and his ability to get things done.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Shadowblade like?
Anna: It’s an Empire, with the setting based on the Middle East – deserts, foothills, some mountains. The technology level is medieval, before the invention of firearms. The weather is mostly hot and dry, even though in Haggad, where the Jaihar Order is located, the altitude is higher, so they get cool winds and it can be chilly at night. The society is mildly patriarchal in the north, but matriarchal in the south, so the interactions between men and women depend on their origin, and mixing them together leads to an overall neutral stance regarding the equality of genders. It’s a tyranny, with oppression, massacres, assassinations, etc., so I suppose it is a pretty violent society, but this violence is really not central to the book. People believe in one God, Sel, and there are churches and priests.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Shadowblade?
Anna: I love the concept of the Jaihar warriors, the blademasters who combine the best from the weapon skills of many cultures, so it was very enjoyable for me to show Naia’s Jaihar training, from early on, all the way to the top. Cool blade fights were really fun to write, there are several of them throughout the book. And yes, doing research for these fights, by practicing with different weapons, was definitely part of this enjoyment.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Anna: Um. The possibility of a sequel? 🙂
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing Shadowblade? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Anna: I read – and write – mostly for fun, so my ambition with every book is to create the most enjoyable experience for the reader. With this said, I wanted to show the path of a young girl trying to make it all the way to the top in a largely male-dominated environment. I guess the one message is to never give up, which is the advice I live by every day. The other one is to believe in yourself. Naia gets this advice from two very important people at the beginning of the book, and in the end, she is able to take her destiny into her own hands, despite everyone trying to manipulate her. Believing in yourself, and acting on these beliefs, is definitely a theme.
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 Shadowblade that you can share with us?
Anna: Sorry, I am really not so good with the quoting thing! I like my characters joking around and being sassy. I also like to insert sarcasm even into the most serious political conversations. But I think putting any of this here probably won’t work well out of context, without getting overly long…
DJ: Now that Shadowblade is released, what is next for you?
Anna: Well, I am open to a possibility of a sequel, if this ends up being the most talked-about thing :-). I also have an outline of another novel, in the same style, but not connected to this one. At some point in my life I would also love to write another Majat Code book… But the one I am actually working on right now is a supernatural fantasy, which – for the first time in my life – fully utilizes my background as a biomedical scientist. No promises, though.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Author Newsletter: https://annakashinablog.wordpress.com/
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Shadowblade that we haven’t talked about yet?
Anna: It has some great food!
DJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Anna: Thank you for having me here, this was so much fun!
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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***Shadowblade is published by Angry Robot and is available TODAY!!!***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
A young sword prodigy must impersonate a lost princess and throw her life into a deadly political game, in this kinetic epic fantasy novel by the author of the award-winning Majat Code series
Naia dreams of becoming a Jaihar Blademaster, but after assaulting a teacher, her future seems ruined. The timely intervention of a powerful stranger suddenly elevates her into elite Upper Grounds training. She has no idea that the stranger is Dal Gassan, head of the Daljeer Circle. Seventeen years ago he witnessed the massacre of Challimar’s court and rescued its sole survivor, a baby girl. Gassan plans to thrust a blade into the machinations of imperial succession: Naia. Disguised as the legendary Princess Xarimet of Challimar, Naia must challenge the imperial family, and win. Naia is no princess, but with her desert-kissed eyes and sword skills she might be close enough…
About the Author:
Anna Kashina writes historical adventure fantasy, featuring exotic settings, martial arts, assassins, and elements of romance. Her “Majat Code” series, published by Angry Robot Books, UK, received two Prism Awards in 2015. She is a Russian by origin, and a scientist in her day job, and she freely draws on these backgrounds in her writing. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.