Mark de Jager
was born and grew up in South Africa and now lives in London and works in the banking sector. He is a much loved and highly respected member of the science fiction and fantasy community, a regular at conventions and is married to author Liz de Jager.
Infernal by Mark De Jager. (Ebury Press, £16.99)
A daring new voice in fantasy, with an anti-hero like no other
Stratus wakes alone, with no memory of his past. All he knows is his name and that he is not human. Possessing immense strength, powerful sorcery and an insatiable hunger, he sets out across a landscape torn apart by a war, as a dark magic drives the world to the brink of destruction.
Disoriented and pursued relentlessly by enemies, he will have to learn what he truly is, or risk bringing the world into ruin…
‘A kingdom 25 year in the making’.
I spent most of my teenage years and early twenties hiding behind a cardboard screen, a pastime that my mother tolerated with a lot of eyerolling and subtle questions like ‘why don’t go out and meet a nice girl instead?’. There’s no telling how things may have panned out if I’d taken that the hint, but if I had, Infernal would never have seen the light of day.
I discovered fantasy in High School, and it wasn’t long before I stumbled onto the ‘game club’ and the delights of Deathtrap Dungeon and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series. But it was an invitation to join a new D&D game that was, quite literally, the game changer for me. The game itself was a disaster; my character died before he could even draw a sword (something which set the pattern for every character of mine since) but I loved the sense of being inside a story.
I was a terrible and unlucky player; all dice hated me and turned every heroic gesture into a crushing defeat, but I loved the idea of it too much to quit. So instead I thought I’d try my hand at being the dungeonmaster, refereeing the game and turning bulletpoint notes into something fun. It was a learning curve, but I was far better at that than being a player. I knew I had little or no chance of persuading my mother to part with all-too-scarce spare cash that would be ‘wasted’ on a game that the local collective of mums still thought of as a gateway to Satanism et al.
So I started photocopying the stuff I could get my hands on (sorry TSR), then adding my own notes to fill in the blanks. Dungeon maps came first, but then I had to know where the dungeons were, so I drew more maps, maps that had towns and cities on that my players suddenly wanted to visit, forcing me to figure out who lived there and what they did, and that was where my work began.
Fuelled on by the heady combination of a teenage fixation with tragic heroism and repeated watchings of Ladyhawke, Dragonslayer and the Conan movies, I started to flesh out the kingdoms that made up my world, Wunterland. As is common with most gamers, the guys in my group were highly intelligent and quick to pick up on anything that didn’t make sense. With every question and quest, that world grew a little bit more. I had records of trade agreements, climate and agricultural cycles, what monsters ate, where they lived, and what they did when no one was about. It was a fantasy world, but it was anchored to real considerations. Actions had consequences, and nothing existed in a vacuum.
Time and the nagging need to pay my own bills saw Wunterland slowly drift away, my notebooks and atlases lost to damp storage sheds and our move to the UK. But, like Goonies, some things never die.
When I decided to get serious about writing there was no doubt in my mind as to where these stories would be set, and the simple act of writing down the names of the Kingdoms and their principal cities was like opening a door back onto that period. The ingrained habit of questioning the world, and making sure there’s a logic to everything, has proven its worth many times since. In my opinion it’s an essential discipline when it comes to writing in a fantasy world. Most of it doesn’t make it onto the page, nor does it need to, but it provides a foundation and confidence to write from.
It almost makes up for missing all those parties I wasn’t invited to is an added bonus. I did get the girl though.
Many thanks Mark……
I have to admit to fan boy begging for a copy of this book, the cover just shouts out to be read. I’m a big fan of a decent cover, and yes you can judge a book by the cover, because if the cover sucks i’m probably never going to read it….
I’m also a sucker for a debut, keeping a look out for the next great read, the person who will hit the genre like a very irate Balrog (fully committing to a geek reference), demanding notice and attention and deserving it.
So how did this stack up? it was very different, which as an opener can be good or bad. The Protagonist Stratus neither a hero or a villain wakes at the beginning of the book unable to move. The book follows his first person account / voyage of discovery to who and what he is. Strength sorcery and a very irate mental passenger all make for a dangerous force crossing the landscape of this world, and the first person allows for a clever use of descriptive to info drop the nuances of the world and its geopolitical framework.
There is a rich darkness to this book, being given free passage to a persons thoughts is a voyeuristic ride, one that is slightly disturbing, because Startus clearly isn’t human (any fantasy reader will guess very quickly what he is, but i’m not really sure that will win any prizes). This is also clearly the start of a longer journey, as we learn about the magic of the world, the beings that inhabit it and its history, all of which both draw you in and and ask more questions, for me the sign of great writing.
I will admit to a few times being frustrated with the first person nature of the book when Stratus asks himself the same thing yet again, but like anything different it needs time to bed in, when i first read Julian Stockwin it took me time to get used to the Sea shanty nuance of the language. I did get used to those subtleties in Infernal and by the later part of the book it was hard to put down, and the hooks were well embedded by the end, leaving me wanting more more more. As ever D H H Literary Agency have found a winning combination of author, clever writing and something unique in style, bring on the next great debut (please).