Today I am interviewing Jon Skovron, author of the new fantasy novel, The Ranger of Marzanna, first book in The Goddess War trilogy.
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DJ: Hi Jon! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Jon Skovron: Hi DJ! I live just outside Washington DC with my two teenagers and two cats. My first novel was published way back in 2009. It was a YA novel from Amulet called Struts & Frets. I went on to write three other YA novels before deciding to switch to writing “adult” novels. Well, not really deciding, I guess. I just started writing it and after about six chapters realized it was not YA. That ended up becoming Hope and Red, my debut adult fantasy novel, and the first book of the Empire of Storms trilogy from Orbit Books, which was completed back in I think 2017? Or thereabouts. My editor wanted me to release them nine months apart, so that whole period in my life is a little bit of a blur…
DJ: What is The Ranger of Marzanna about?
Jon: The Ranger of Marzanna is set in a wintery fantasy landscape inspired largely by my ancestral Poland and Czarist Russia. It’s a land that was conquered two decades before by a vast empire. Those who tried to stop the empire from their conquest, the fabled and mysterious Rangers of Marzanna, were nearly exterminated in the aftermath. Only one elderly Ranger managed to escape the purge but he manages to pass on his mystical secrets to a young woman named Sonya. When Sonya’s father is murdered by the empire, she resolves not merely to get revenge, but to liberate her people from the empire. Unfortunately, her younger brother Sebastian, a profoundly gifted wizard, becomes enthralled by the charismatic imperial commander and decides to join the empire instead, setting the siblings on a collision course that gets very messy indeed.
DJ: What were some of your influences The Ranger of Marzanna and the series?
Jon: I love the old school fantasy series. Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea, David Eddings’s Belgariad, stuff like that. It was vast and sweeping, with big ideas and crazy magic. But it also had a lot of heart. The characters were funny and relatable. I wanted to write something that had all those elements in it. I also wanted an excuse to research and explore my slavic roots, which I did extensively in preparation for this book. Things my grandmother used to say make soooo much more sense now.
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?
Jon: Sonya takes much of the spotlight in this book, in part because she is fearless, ferocious, and just full of bad choices. As a Ranger of Marzanna, she worships the Lady Marzanna, goddess of winter and death. The Lady grants her abilities in exchange for pieces of her humanity. The human parts she gives up are replaced by parts from a beast that matches their personality, in Sonya’s case the arctic fox. So the more powerful she gets, the more beast-like she gets. Not just physically, but mentally as well. As the story progresses, this obviously becomes a problem, especially when her best buddy Jorge isn’t around to provide some sanity.
Sebastian, the wayward brother, is an immensely powerful elemental magic user. He means well, but he’s young and naive and desperate to please his newfound mentor, Commander Vittorio. I modeled him somewhat on young people I know who have been taken in by extremist groups, and while he does some terrible things, I hope the reader can find some empathy for him, even though they don’t agree with his choices. He does have a redemption arc, but you will not see it in this first book.
And then there is Galina: brilliant, quirky, and intensely driven. I always have one character in every book who insists on having a larger part than I’d originally planned. She was only supposed to be a love interest for Sebastian, yet in the writing she became so integral to the story that book 2, The Queen of Izmoroz, is named after her. That’s her in a nutshell.
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?
Jon: There are a LOT of characters in this book. And there are multiple POVs. And not just from main characters. With a story that covers so much ground, and with so many moving parts, I found it necessary. If I had to pick favorite minor characters, I’d say–and this is a minor spoiler, I guess–Andre and Tatiana, two old Rangers who escaped the purge by hiding in the tundra for twenty years. They’re only in a few scenes in this book, but they are super weird and much further down the beast progression than Sonya. I had a blast writing them. Especially Tatiana, who has an unnerving tendency to refer to regular humans as “lemmings”.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Goddess War trilogy like?
Jon: The Ranger of Marzanna takes place in a cold, wintry and fairly rural country called Izmoroz, which as I said is loosely based on Poland and Russia. It’s one of five regions on the continent, three of which are ruled by Empress Catarina of the Aureum Empire. To the west of Izmoroz on the other side of a dangerous and inhospitable tundra is an independent country called Uaine, a mysterious land supposedly populated by demons who control an army of the undead.
South of Izmoroz is Auruem, the seat of the empire, which is loosely based on the Roman empire. South of Aureum is Raíz, where Sonya’s friend Jorge is from. To the east of both Aureum and Raíz is the other independent country on the continent, Kante, which the empire is currently waging a bitter and protracted war to annex. Each of these places has their own distinct magical systems and cultures, but you only really see Izmoroz and Uaine in this book. The others will figure much more prominently in the second book.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Ranger of Marzanna?
Jon: The gory bits. Always the gory bits. If there isn’t at least one scene in every book that makes the reader wince, I haven’t done my job properly. Thankfully there is an undead horde in this book, so there were plenty of opportunities.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began The Goddess War trilogy? The Ranger of Marzanna is only the first book, but is 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?
Jon: Absolutely. But I don’t want to give too much of that away yet. I will say there’s a reason why it’s called The Goddess War, and the epilogue for The Ranger of Marzanna should give the reader some hint at just how big and crazy it’s going to get by the end.
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 The Ranger of Marzanna that you can share with us?
Jon: Hmm. Most of my favorite quotes probably only really make sense in context, but Galina is pretty reliable for fun little zingers, for example:
Was it love? She could not say. It was, at the very least, a potent combination of fondness and lust, and successful marriages had been built on less.
DJ: Now that The Ranger of Marzanna is released, what is next for you?
Jon: Well, there is a strange little side project that I can’t talk about yet, but I can tell you that my debut Middle Grade novel, The Hacker’s Key, will be out next fall from Scholastic Books. The second book of The Goddess War, which as I mentioned is called The Queen of Izmoroz, will be out April of 2021, and third and final volume, The Wizard of Eventide, will be out spring of 2022.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jon-Skovron/e/B002BOHQ7I
Author Newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/skovron
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Ranger of Marzanna and The Goddess War trilogy that we haven’t talked about yet?
Jon: Marzanna is the Polish name for the actual slavic goddess of winter. To this day in parts of Poland, an effigy of Marzanna is “drowned” at the end of winter to celebrate the beginning of spring.
Also, arctic foxes are adorable. Even when their fuzzy little muzzles are soaked with the blood of their prey, they are still somehow adorable.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Jon: My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.
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***The Ranger of Marzanna is published by Orbit Books and is available TODAY!!!***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, two siblings set out on opposite paths—one will destroy the Empire forever and the other will save it—in this thrilling new Russian inspired epic fantasy from Jon Skovron.
Sonya is training to be a Ranger of Marzanna, an ancient sect of warriors who have protected the land for generations. But the old ways are dying, and the rangers have all been forced into hiding or killed off by the invading Empire.
When her father is murdered by imperial soldiers, she decides to finally take action. Using her skills as a ranger she will travel across the bitter cold tundra and gain the allegiance of the only other force strong enough to take down the invaders.
But nothing about her quest will be easy. Because not everyone is on her side. Her brother, Sebastian, is the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen. And he’s fighting for the empire.
About the Author:
Jon Skovron has been an actor, musician, lifeguard, Broadway theater ticket seller, warehouse grunt, technical writer, and web developer. Now he is a father and the author of Young Adult novels Struts & Frets, Misfit and the forthcoming Man Made Boy, as well as many short stories and essays. He generally likes stories that are dark, strange, and occasionally funny.
Jon was born in Columbus, Ohio. After traveling around a bit, from Pittsburgh to London to New York to Seattle, he has settled, somewhat haphazardly, in the Washington, DC area, where he and his two sons can regularly be seen not fitting into the general Government scene.