Today I am interviewing Stephen Deas, author of the new fantasy novel, The Moonsteel Crown, first book in the Dominion series.
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DJ: Hi Stephen! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Stephen Deas: Well… male, early fifties but young at heart, good sense of humour… Oh, wait, you probably mean the books? Right. So, I’ve been publishing novels under various names in various different genres for… fifteen years I think. But what got me started writing was fantasy. It was reading fantasy that made me want to write stories of my own, the first stories I tried to write were fantasy and it was as a fantasy novelist that I was first published. I’ve been off doing SF and crime and historical stuff for the last few years… it’s seven years since The SIlver Kings came out. Wow. It doesn’t feel that long. Anyway, I’m really pleased to be writing fantasy again for Angry Robot, and particularly pleased that it’s The Moonsteel Crown.
DJ: What is The Moonsteel Crown about?
Stephen: Essentially, it’s a trio of misfits who hang out as part of a small-time crime gang calling themselves The Unrulys. The boss has ambitions and so he falls in with a shady character who wants to use the Unrulys to steal something special and just happens to know where and when it might be possible. So our heroes are roped into doing the job, which they do, only to discover that what they’ve stolen is far too hot to handle, and that, like or not, they’re now in the middle of something much, much bigger than them. Most of the rest of the story is about them trying to extricate themselves from this mess with their skins intact while everyone is out to get them, occasionally stabbing each other in the back, and also dealing with their own ongoing problems.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Moonsteel Crown and the series?
Stephen: That’s hard. The Moonsteel Crown is quite contained in scope but the series is going to broaden out later. So when you look at the setting for the series as a whole, it’s basically the classics of epic fantasy: Tolkein, Moorcock, all those old names. It’s difficult to remember – the bones of this story were laid down twenty years ago. But when you get into the nitty-gritty… I wanted to write something where the characters weren’t particularly special, and were mostly just trying to survive. I hadn’t read any grimdark then (I want to say it didn’t really exist, but someone will immediately prove me wrong, so let’s say I hadn’t discovered it). There are definitely echoes of Scott Lynch, but again, he hadn’t been published either, back then. I guess there’s a streak of Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork in the grubbiness of Varr. I sort of wanted a Fellowship of the Ring who were all ‘No! We don’t want that! Nothing to see here, move along! You take it!’ and tried their absolute damndest to spend the whole story getting drunk in The Prancing Pony while somebody else sorted out the whole saving-the-world business.
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?
Stephen: I think (hope) that it’s the characters that make The Moonsteel Crown. If they were all sensible, upright, heroic citizens… well, if they were that then they wouldn’t have found themselves wrapped up in this whole business in the first place.
There are three characters at the heart of the story: Myla, Fings and Seth. Myla is a merchant’s daughter who was shipped off to a temple to become a sword-monk on the grounds that she already had two older siblings who’d be inheriting the family business. Myla turns out to be pretty good (possibly exceptionally good) at the “sword” part of being a sword-monk, less good at the “monk” part, being a bit too fond of getting drunk and getting into fights and generally carousing. She’s both done something exceptional (which she doesn’t talk about) and something terrible (which she does) in her past, the latter of which means she’s currently on the run with a very powerful family hunting for her so they can string her up. As much as they have one, Myla is the moral compass of the central trio in The Moonsteel Crown. Unfortunately, she’s more preoccupied with her own problems, and her sword-monk attitude of walking straight towards whatever looks most dangerous and daring it to start something doesn’t exactly sit well with the others. Nevertheless, Myla is the cornerstone of the group.
Seth used to be a priest, before he got kicked out for meddling with Things Which Man Was Not Meant To Know. He’s smart, too, but with a huge chip on his shoulder. He’s been reduced to little more than a beggar when he could be so much more. He came from nothing, forged a promising new life for himself, and then had it all taken away just because some stuck-up priests didn’t like it that he was sticking his nose into difficult questions like why do the dead occasionally come back to life, and why does drawing a funny shape on a piece of paper put them to rest again and, particularly, are there other funny shapes a person could draw that would have other effects? He so, so, so wants to show that he’s right and everyone else is wrong. Trouble is, he’s a bit of a coward (with good reason, in the world he inhabits). All of which means he both admires and resents Myla, who seems to be dealing with dropping out of her own temple-based life much better than him.
Sitting between these two is Fings. Fings and Seth have known each other since they were children, are as good as brothers, and Fings would do anything for family. Mostly, since Fings is an expert burglar, this involves stealing stuff. Like Myla, Fings is very loyal to his friends. Unfortunately, Fings isn’t too bright, and has a bit of a problem with the whole idea of personal property. This has a tendency to get him – and anyone around him – into trouble. Fings is also deeply, deeply superstitious.
They’re all quite competent, in their own ways. If they could all manage to work together with the same goals, they could probably get a lot done. But what made writing them fun is that they don’t have the same goals. They have some things in common, but not all, and so they keep getting in each other’s way. The heart of The Moonsteel Crown is really a story of three friends who help each other out, but who also trip each other up just as often. That, more than anything, was what made it fun to write.
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?
Stephen: Oh, that’s hard. Several. I have a special fondness for the Princess-Regent, who appears briefly in about two scenes, but that’s mostly because of what I know is coming in later volumes (if we get that far). There’s Myla’s sword-mistress teacher, but she doesn’t really show up until the second volume. I’m really rather fond of Orien, the fire-mage. He’s so, so full of himself, so ragingly short of any actual competence, so, so besotted with Myla and yet somehow manages not to be a total dick. But my favourite cameo character has to be Cleaver, the zombie with a bad attitude who sulks a lot and doesn’t do what he’s told and displays an altogether far too suspicious degree of initiative for a zombie.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the Dominion series like?
Stephen: I don’t want to go too much into this, but the world is the same multiverse as my previous fantasy novels – there’s a small crossover in people and places. You see the world as the characters see the world, which is quite a narrow window here (it will widen as the story progresses). So what you see is a relentless winter with snow falling several feet deep and people freezing to death on the streets. You see a large sprawling empire in the throes of an uncertain transition of power. Religion is is significant (if you read any of my other fantasy, the gods of Sun and Moon and goddesses of Earth and Stars will be familiar); in The Moonsteel Crown, that mostly comes across through Myla and Seth struggling with their faith, but the Path of the Sun plays a fairly central role in the story as a whole. The setting draws very loosely on Imperial China (a large empire, diverse but integrated cultures, not much change happening on the surface, vastly concentrated wealth and power) and also early Tsarist Moscow, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. It’s a deliberate choice that we don’t see much of the world and how it works in The Moonsteel Crown.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Moonsteel Crown?
Stephen: The bickering.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Stephen: I’m kind of hoping they’ll mostly be talking about the characters and how great they were and what’s going to happen to them next. But it’ll probably be the bickering.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began the Dominion series? The Moonsteel Crown 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?
Stephen: Yes, there absolutely is. I don’t want to say TOO much about that because spoilers. But hopefully the underlying theme already comes across from The Moonsteel Crown. It’s about friendship. It’s about sticking by your friends even when they let you down, about shouting at them when they mess up but standing by them all the same. It’s about picking them up when they fall and letting them do the same for you. It’s about helping them out even when you know they’re wrong, about walking through the fire for them when you could just as easily have stayed at home.
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 Moonsteel Crown that you can share with us?
Stephen: One reviewer pulled this one out, which I rather like: Most of all, he saw that even here in this great cathedral that held all the knowledge of the world, their stories were wrong. To be honest, it’s almost impossible to choose. I like a lot of the interplay between Fings and Seth but it doesn’t work out of context. So I’ll choose this little exchange from the middle of the book, which pretty much gets to the core of both Seth and Myla.
“I think I’m done with running from my mistakes. At some point, you have to stop, don’t you? You have to stand and face who you are and what you’ve done?”
Seth looked at her like she was mad. “And you think this is the right time for that?”
DJ: Now that The Moonsteel Crown is released, what is next for you?
Stephen: The Book of Endings has gone to edit, so I’m waiting for the notes back on that. I’m working on a five-way collaboration for a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood. Aside from that, there’s a couple of SF projects I’m poking at as Sam Peters and there’s more Dominion to plot out. We’ll see how it goes with The Moonsteel Crown…
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Facebook: Stephen Deas (but I don’t say very much)
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Moonsteel Crown and the Dominion series that we haven’t talked about yet?
Stephen: People have a lot of different expectations about what “fantasy” is. I’ve seen The Moonsteel Crown listed as “epic” fantasy and as “urban” fantasy. Well… I’m not sure it’s either of these. It’s not Feist or Eddings or Tolkein, it’s not Brooks or Williams. It’s not Conan or Gemmell either. If those are the stories you want, there are plenty of other writers out there who will be more than happy to deliver them for you. There’s no “hero’s journey” here, and no heroes either. That said, it’s not Martin or Abercrombie either. I’m not sure what it is, really. The closest I’ve read – the authors whose stories remind me of Myla and Seth and Fings – are Scott Lynch and Jen Williams. It’s simply a story of three not-particularly-exceptional characters who find themselves in difficult circumstances that are as much of their own making as not, struggling to escape the shit that wants to drag them under and often as not shooting themselves in the foot. I hope you’ll feel for them, and I hope, too, there are times when you want to shout at them why did you do that? Don’t expect an all-round happy ending, either: although I see it as more up-beat than down, the three characters have very different arcs, and The Moonsteel Crown is only the beginning.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Stephen: I just read The Devil’s Blade by Mark Alder. If you like Myla, the heroine, Julie D’Aubigny might be up your street. And I’d recommend Robert Reddick’s Master Assassins. Quite different in tone, but with the same theme of friendship and sticking by each other through thick and thin.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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***The Moonsteel Crown is published by Angry Robot and is available TODAY!!!***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
The Emperor of Aria is dead, and three junior members of a street gang are unwittingly caught up in the ensuing struggle for the throne, in the first epic adventure in a new fantasy world from a master of the genre.
The vast Empire of Aria is in crisis. The Emperor is dead, murdered. The heir is a nine-year-old boy whose older sister, a potent sorceress, is manoeuvring to act as regent. Factions are forming within the Imperial family, the Southern lords are edging towards open rebellion, and on the far-flung borders an ancient darkness stirs.
Myla, Fingers and Seth couldn’t care less. All members of Fat Al’s Teahouse gang, they’ve found themselves in somewhat of a pickle, caught at the scene of a crime stealing to order, what they only just now realise might well be linked to the Emperor’s untimely demise. Stuck in a city on lockdown they’re forced to lay low, but the wolves are circling, and rival gangs are smelling blood…
About the Author:
Stephen Deas was born in Southeast England, in 1968, and mostly brought up in a town full of retired colonels. His early memories largely consist of running around building sites and being able to spell ‘colonel’ at an unusually early age. Like most people of that age, he took to making up imaginary friends to supplement my real ones. Unlike most people, he never quite stopped, and has been writing about them in one form or another ever since.
Aside from writing books, he has, at various times, been obsessed with mathematics, classical piano music, kung-fu, particle physics and Sid Meier’s Civilisation (the original). Anything that explodes is fascinating, rockets are irresistible, but those are genetic things and thus Not His Fault. There were some years when life was quite unlikely, took him to some interesting places and offered unusual things. The first time he went on holiday abroad, a war broke out. Also, he would like you to not tell the bomb-squad where he lives. Once was enough.
Deas is the author of more than twenty novels covering fantasy (which he writes under his own name and as Nathan Hawke), crime (as SK Sharp), science fiction (as Sam Peters, or as Gavin Deas when co-authoring with that notorious bad boy of SF, Gavin Smith) and historical fiction (as SJ Deas). As well as his novel works, Deas is collaborating on bringing a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood to the small screen, and desperately trying to convince Netflix that what it really needs is a show centred on Irene Adler.
Deas now lives in a different part of South-east England with his wife and two boys where he continues to pretend to be other people, most frequently A Responsible Parent(TM).