Sebastien De Castell
Author Web Site
Sebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His only defence against the charge of unbridled dilettantism is that he genuinely likes doing these things and that, in one way or another, each of these fields plays a role in his writing. He sternly resists the accusation of being a Renaissance Man in the hopes that more people will label him that way.
Sebastien lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.
Saint’s Blood (2016)
(The third book in the Greatcoats series)
How do you kill a Saint? Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they’ve started with a friend. The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumours are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors – a move that could turn the country into a theocracy. The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he’ll still have to face him in battle. And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.
When Traitors blade was released in 2014 i have to admit to being totally wowed by the book, It introduced a great new voice into the fantasy world and really proved the cross over between the historical fiction genre and fantasy. Since that book i have tried to be first in line to read the next release.
Saints Blood was no different, as soon as the cover art was released my count down began, my harassing of the publisher to gain a review copy started, and they kindly didn’t tell me to go take a running jump. When the date finally arrived i did what i have only done 4 times in 12 months, i stopped reading the book i was reading to start this one.
It was to my great delight that this latest book in the series was a fitting next step in what has rapidly become on of my all time fav fantasy series. Our heroes (for want of a better phrase) have that great dialogue, a edge of dry wit and sarcasm and realistic rudeness that only true friends could have. The fighting skills clearly from the authors own knowledge of the sword, bring that hint of Dumas and the Three Musketeers.
But those parts of the book would just be gimmicks without the simply amazing plot-lines. Every book has kept me on the edge of the page from first page to last, guessing at the twists and turns ahead, who may or may not die, who from among the greatcoats will appear? who will turn traitor and what level of abuse Brasti will sink to.
The author has risen to the challenge of improvement with each and every book, but not incremental improvement, each book has made huge leaps ahead of the last. This latest book is simply stunning, when the plot needs it there is the absence of blade, then out of the blue you are treated to a Balesta of action leading to what you think is a barrage of plot culmination, only to find out it has been more progressive actions, the end of the book always elusive, ever in doubt, always leaving you questioning and wanting more.
I now have 4 of my top 10 books for the year, and this one is going to take some beating for the number one spot in Fantasy, it is simply brilliant.
Sebastian De Castell has kindly agreed to some questions…. i hope you enjoy.
Have you always had a passion for writing?
No, not at all.
I know that’s an odd thing for an author to confess, but my passion has always been for story—that ephemeral and ethereal magic that happens inside the mind of the audience—rather than for any particular medium. Some of the most vivid stories ever told are the ones told by some stranger you just met in a bar, or by an older sister to her younger brother. Storytelling is at its most magical when it feels personal. I often have to talk through my stories with friends or my editors in order to get that sense of what’s happening inside their heads when they’re hearing it before I can start typing.
I think it took me a long time before I could write in a way that felt that direct—that you were so close to the main character that what was happening on the inside was as important as the external events.
That said, the novel is, for me, feels like the perfect vehicle for story to me now. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What led you to write fantasy?
It wasn’t so much about writing fantasy as finding a place where I could tell the kinds of stories that are meaningful to me: stories about idealism and the romanticism of human beings and the strange, abstract things we create like laws and countries and systems of belief. What I care about is drama and that’s what occupies my mind as I’m writing: is this scene dramatic? Does it feel true? Will this make someone laugh or cry or get angry? Will this make someone see things around them differently or will it just drift away when the book is closed?
We often say that fantasy is the genre of wonder and enchantment, but those elements have to be in service to something beyond just creating imaginary worlds. My favourite fantasy stories are the ones which I can bring back to my own life somehow—stories that help re-enchant the everyday world.
Who are your inspirations in the genre?
The people who made me want to write were Roger Zelazny, who was my first exposure to what I’d call a noir style of fantasy writing, Steven Brust, who took that forward with flair and a more naturalist sensibility, and Charles de Lint, who can enchant the everyday world in ways that I can only dream of achieving one day. That said, if I ask myself whose books I could pick up and know that I’d enjoy it before even reading the first page and who can fearlessly interweave theme inside page-turning stories, it would be Robin Hobb.
You are pictured with a sword in publicity photos, can you tell us about you and how long you have trained? What types of sword you use? And what led you to become proficient?
I started out in the way that lots of geeks do: I wanted very badly to be a bard but discovered no such job existed. So I learned and did the things that a bard might do. I became a professional musician and toured around with bands, I told stories and wrote books, and, of course, I picked up the sword.
I used to fence epée and occasionally foil (no sabre, though—don’t get me started on modern sabrists.) I ended up learning theatrical fencing and stage combat and eventually worked choreographing sword fights for theatre productions. I always think my favourite weapon is the rapier, but in practice I’m probably more natural with the broadsword and more skilled with the smallsword.
I’ve been so busy these past few years, though, that I’m horrendously out of practice—something I plan to rectify this summer. En guarde!
Your characters are very simple and very complex at the same time, just like real people, have you framed them around people you have met? Or are they all constructs?
It’s never really a planned out practice for me, but I discovered long ago that I tend to view people when I first meet them in very blunt terms, fancying that I can sum them up quickly and efficiently. Of course, I’m always wrong. A person’s character is made up of a wide range of often contradictory desires, experiences, and beliefs. They rarely live up to our expectations and yet often surpass them in ways we never expected. So I tend to write characters that way in my books: people who you think you know early on but then keep discovering more and more depth as you read further.
I tend not to replicate people I’ve met inside my fiction. While it’s an easy way to create a sense of depth and realism, it doesn’t always give you what the story needs. Theme is vital to me in the books I write, so I’m often looking for characters who can fight for different ways of interpreting that theme. That’s why everyone is perpetually pissing off poor Falcio in the Greatcoats books.
I have often compared the concept to a modern day Dumas and the Musketeers, did you start out with the musketeers as a concept, or is this happy coincidence?
I love nothing better than when someone uses my name and Dumas in the same sentence, but the truth is, no, I wasn’t consciously trying to create a modern interpretation of the Three Musketeers. I wanted to start with three friends who’d come to a point where they realized everything they’d ever stood for had proven to have failed and then see what came next.
I actually think it’s incredibly difficult to tell Musketeer-type stories because the very nature of swashbuckling adventure makes it difficult to have genuine growth of characters over time or for the reader to really believe they’re in jeopardy. That’s why a lot of people were shocked by Knight’s Shadow and what Falcio goes through—they weren’t expecting to see a swashbuckling hero broken down so thoroughly. But it was absolutely necessary, both for the story and the series. You had to see that, while exciting and flamboyant, these were heroes who could be beaten, could be broken, and that their jeopardy was genuine. I needed that darkness to create a backdrop for the more light and fun aspects of the series.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out writing a fantasy series?
When someone asks me that question I usually answer as follows: you already know. You knowwhat you need to do. Just close your eyes and for five seconds, ask yourself this question: “What is the best advice someone could give me right now” and you’ll hear it.
The reason we all want someone else to say it is because that takes away our own responsibility for being accountable to our writing. But when you get down to it, it’s going to be you and the page or the screen, so you’re going to have to get comfortable with telling yourself what to do next.
Then, when they say, “great, thanks for nothing,” I say, “Okay, okay…look, if you really want some writing advice, here it is: fearlessly write the book you most want to read.” It’s pretty common advice, but the magic word in there is fearlessly.
What I’m seeing in the publishing business now is that there’s no room for ‘good’ books, only special ones. That means something that fires people up and takes hold of their imagination. You want to write a vampire romance? Write the most vampirey-romancey thing you possibly can. You want to write about elves? Make them everything you wish elves would be. Don’t aim for what others consider acceptable. Tell the story in your most authentic, uncensored voice. Write it so that you don’t dare show it to your friends or family. I promise, you can always use craft to make it ‘acceptable’ to people later, but you need to start like a train on fire, barrelling ahead and saying exactly what you want to say, in your voice, without regard to what anyone other than a person who loves what you love will think.
Give one reader—the one who’s just like you–the most amazing, personal story possible. You’ll be surprised at how many of you there are out there.
What do you currently read for pleasure?
I’ve been reading a bit of crime and horror lately, including Andrew Pyper, Gillian Flynn, and a little Mark Lawrence on the fantasy side. I’m dying to read the upcoming Guy Gavriel Kay book, “Children of Earth & Sky”, but I’m not famous enough yet for publishers to be sending me things before they’re released.
Which one book do you wish you had written, and why?
This is going to sound strange, but I wish I’d written the first Nancy Drew book. Just think about what that series has meant to so many people over decades. How many kids read Nancy Drew and thought about solving their own mysteries, about being their own heroes, about being at the centre of stories rather than at the periphery. It wasn’t the first of such stories, but to make something that has such a lasting impact…an author can only dream of such things.
I wish Carolyn Keene had been a real person instead of a syndicate of ghost writers. If she had been, she could have prevented the sanitizing of the character that happened in the 1950’s (there’s some really interesting history there for anyone who wants to look it up.)
I guess I want writer-heroes to look up to in genre fiction, authors who boldly create characters and stories that affect generations of people. Why is it only the literary folks get to construct mythologies around their writers?
You are given a soap box…yes a real one, dropped outside Kings cross station and told to sell your book to passers by… whats your pitch….?
“It’s about idealism, and friendship, and how to survive in a world where those things don’t seem to matter anymore. Also, there are some cool sword fights.”