Holiday greetings, Awesome Readers! Hope you all had a fab whatever-you-celebrate, and if you didn’t celebrate anything, hope that was fab too. Today we’re here at The Novel Approach Reviews with DSP Publications author Amy Rae Durreson, who’s going to tell us all about her brand-new Fantasy release Resistance.
So put off taking down those decorations for one more day, and follow us into the fantastic and fantastical world of…
Resistance: Overthrowing the Shadow that ruled Tiallat was only the first step. For rebel leader Iskandir, rebuilding his shattered country is an even greater challenge. A poor harvest, religious conflict, and years of tyrannical governance combine with the challenge of getting the soldiers of the Shadow’s army home and rehousing the exiled who are flooding back into free Tiallat.
Then people begin to get sick.
A thousand years ago, after the Shadow’s first defeat, a blight fell upon the north: a disease that killed more than the war itself. Now, as this plague returns, Iskandir must look north again to the newly awakened dragon Halsarr, a learned doctor and professor who wants no part in a new war. Even if Halsarr agrees to come to their aid, Iskandir is afraid of the truth he will expose. For the dragon Halsarr once loved a bold and reckless steppes elemental who later transformed into the lonely and powerful Dual God of Tiallat, the two-faced Lord who has been missing since the Shadow entered the country.
Carole: I’ve gotta say, Amy—I said “fantastical” before, and I really meant it. This world you’ve built, and the characters that inhabit it, are what Fantasy is all about. Tell us what the genre means to you.
Amy: I write epic fantasy—great big stories about heroes and villains with magic sliding and creeping through everything, exaggerating and reflecting back the heroes’ emotions. I’ve always loved fantasy and the ways in which stories get retold over the centuries and how each iteration tells you more about its own time than the original story. I also love the process of telling a fantasy story, in the way you can roll out a sentence onto the page and fill its rhythms with thunder, and the way you can always up the stakes, until a tiny human dilemma gets played out on the vastest possible stage. In Reawakening, the first book in this series, I had great fun with that epic side of the genre. In Resistance, I wanted to do something slightly different and tell a story which you don’t hear as much, about what happens after the good guys win—who picks up the pieces and tries to mend the broken country and what happens when that too goes horribly, horribly wrong? There’s still a lot at stake, but it’s a much less straightforward story—the enemy here is the plague, which is harder to fight than the evil of the Shadow in the first book.
Carole: Diversity is so important these days, and more sought-after than ever. Why do you personally feel the need to contribute to the spectrum by writing the M/M dynamic?
Amy: The too-easy answer to this is quite simply that of all the story ideas milling around in my brain at the moment, these are the ones that excite me enough to write. On a broader scale, I think there is still a desperate need for more diverse fantasy. It’s facile to just say that choosing new perspectives on old stories refreshes them and makes them exciting again, because gay fantasy has been around long enough that it shouldn’t be a novelty in itself (although there are still people discovering it for the first time and having their minds blown by the very fact that it exists and that’s cool). More importantly, there still just isn’t enough diverse fantasy (which is the phrase I use when explaining what I write, because it’s not just about sexuality). I said earlier that I think fantasy should reflect its own time, yet it still feels like a lot of mainstream fantasy is stuck in this weird little world which only draws on selected aspects of late medieval western European culture. That’s getting better finally, thanks to writers like Lynn Flewelling and N.K. Jemisin becoming mainstream, but for years my own genre frustrated me. It finally feels like I can tell stories I can be excited about again and I love being a part of that positive change.
Carole: It’s nice to think we all can be. So tell us about Resistance.
Amy: Everybody dies! Well, not everybody, but quite a lot of them. It is a plague book, after all, and this is no feeble invented disease—it’s proper bubonic plague. I wanted to tell a fantasy story about a natural disaster, and see it through the eyes of somebody caught in the middle of it. Iskandir was the leader of the resistance and he’s now the de facto ruler of Tiallat, but anyone who has read the end of Reawakening will know he’s also a bit more than that. He offered a unique perspective on the story, and it became very much centered on him and his struggle to make the right choices in an impossible situation. There’s a line towards the end of the book where one of the characters says, “You have not been truly tested until you face nothing but bad choices,” and that’s key to the book. That makes it sound very bleak, but I wanted to write a book about courage and I hope there’s enough of it in there to counteract the sadness.
Carole: Resistance is being published through DSP Publications, Dreamspinner Press’s imprint for nonromance genre novels. Tell us about the relationship in Resistance and why it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of Romance in the M/M genre.
Amy: I actually started trying to write Resistance as a romance, alternating between Hal and Iskandir. It didn’t work. Hal’s side of the story didn’t have the same heft to it. I think a romance tells the story of a couple, showing how they both change. This is Iskandir’s story. It’s his country that’s dying, his shame and guilt that push the story forward, his resistance, both to Hal’s love and to telling the truth about himself. The love story is important, but it’s secondary to the main story, which is about plague and religion and courage.
I’m a primarily a fantasy writer who strays into romance from time to time. All my books have romantic subplots, but they’re not the whole of the book. Certainly my worldbuilding comes from my fantasy reading. I wanted to dig into Tiallat and its history and beliefs in this one in the same way that people like Guy Gavriel Kay and Martha Wells do. At the same time it also needed to be a story which grew out of Iskandir’s fears and needs and balanced on his choices and decisions, because in the end every story has a person at the heart of it.
Carole: Which dovetails wonderfully into my next (and favorite) question: Tell us about the evolution of this story. What was its earliest incarnation as a concept and when did it begin to take the form of Resistance?
Amy: This story had a complicated origin. After Reawakening, I’d planned to write about Raif, who had been a supporting character in the first book, but it didn’t work. Raif very politely informed me that he wasn’t going anywhere until he’d found the Dual God and helped Iskandir fix his country. That was a story type I’ve been wanting to write since I was fifteen, about reconstruction after overthrowing a tyrant. So I turned to the Dual God, who I knew very little about: I knew where he was, I knew he liked to send his people tests, and I knew that a thousand years ago he had been a dragon’s lover. I knew even less about the dragon, Halsarr, beyond the fact he was a doctor. I knew Iskandir was a resistance leader with an odd sense of humour and that Raif was very serious, very devout and very dangerous. So I sat down and wrote a list of all the things this core cast might need to deal with in Tiallat. One of the words I wrote was ‘plague.’ After I’d finished the list, I looked back at it and circled it twice. Then I went away and spent the next two months reading every history of plague I could get my hands on. By the time I’d finished, I knew where my story was going.
Carole: And is that why you felt it was important to write the story with the M/M dynamic? Because it was already there and part of the evolution?
Amy: The simple answer is just because that was who the characters were. I’d also established in Reawakening that all my dragons were gay. There is an in-story logic for this but it was also a finger lifted in the direction of the reactionary side of the genre. I also loved the idea of taking Tiallat, a country we’d seen through Tarn’s eyes in the first book as very repressive, and revealing that their attitude towards gender and same-sex relationships was much more varied and nuanced than it seemed to an outsider. It’s also, in a metaphorical way, a coming out story (Iskandir’s friends know he’s gay, but there are other secrets he is scared to tell them).
Carole: For the last question, I usually ask if there’s anything about the book you’d like to talk about, anything you want to make sure readers understand before they pick it up. You wanted to use the opportunity for something different. So take it away.
Amy: This isn’t about the book itself, but about the inadvertent truth it contains. I wrote Resistance between October 2013 and April 2014, and revised it in August 2014. When I started it, I thought I was writing about a nightmare from our darkest past. Then, in the summer of 2014, the Ebola outbreak struck West Africa. A very familiar story unfolded, one I had read time and time again in my research and one I had written. Several of the characters in Resistance are doctors, and I had worried as I wrote that their levels of courage and self-sacrifice might seem unrealistic. The real courage of doctors faced with Ebola went far, far beyond what I had written. Over five hundred medical personnel died in the outbreak. Writing fantasy, it is easy to forget there are real heroes in the world, but the doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers who died and risked death to care for their patients are proof of true courage.
While extreme events like the Ebola outbreak are thankfully rare, infectious diseases continue to kill. In 2014 1.5 million people died of TB, 114900 of measles, 1.2 million from HIV-related illnesses. Even bubonic plague, which can now be treated with antibiotics, has not been eradicated—it killed 126 people in 2013. Many of these diseases can be cured or alleviated with the help of modern medical care. If you are moved by the plight of Tiallat as you read this book and can spare some money, please consider supporting one of the medical charities that provide care in the poorest parts of the world.
Carole: A very generous and timely sentiment, Amy, and we appreciate that you came to talk to us about it today. And we appreciate that you took the time to come and tell us about the world and characters of Resistance. We wish you the very best with the release.
Thanks to all you Awesome Readers for joining us. Resistance is fresh off release today, and the buy links are below, but before you run off to snag your copy, please enjoy the following excerpt:
All Iskandir’s persuasion, begging, and finally outright orders did no good. Durul stood on the other side of the hospital door and countered them all with steady refusal. As he refuted each of Iskandir’s arguments, he was busy with a hammer, sealing the door from within.
“This is my test,” he said. “Let me face it.”
“You’re not religious!” Iskandir argued, pressing his hands to the door as if he could reach through it. He probably could. He could pull his strength around him and rip the door from its hinges. He could cast light into the dark place where Durul had gone. He could command Durul, this time with a voice blazing with power, to live.
“Then call it my conscience,” Durul said, and Iskandir closed his eyes. How long would Durul listen, even to him? He was too good and honest a man to turn his face away from what he thought was right. If Iskandir had the power to go back in time, he would find and blame that almost-forgotten prophet who had spun a story about conscience and loyalty out of a grieving spirit’s attempt to ignore his people until they found a better god. What had he been thinking when he let them build a religion around the idea? How many good men had died over the centuries trying to prove themselves worthy?
“God didn’t send this,” he said. “This isn’t some test designed to prove how much more suffering we can endure. This is just cruel chance. You have nothing to prove.”
“When Halsarr comes back,” Durul said, his voice growing hoarse from shouting through the door, “you ask him how many surgeons survive an epidemic. This thing’s coming for me. I can hear it walking behind me in my dreams. I get to choose when to turn and face it. How many men get to choose the manner of their dying?”
“Down there?” Iskandir asked. “In the dark, where the Bright Lord cannot see your courage?”
“The Bright Lord sees all,” Durul said, and it struck Iskandir like a punch in the chest, a prayer from a rational man, “and the Dark God judges it. And if he has truly forsaken these people, all the more reason for me to stay.”
Author Bio: Amy Rae Durreson is a quiet Brit with a degree in early English literature, which she blames for her somewhat medieval approach to spelling, and at various times has been fluent in Latin, Old English, Ancient Greek, and Old Icelandic, though these days she mostly uses this knowledge to bore her students. Amy started her first novel twenty-one years ago and has been scribbling away ever since. Despite these long years of experience, she has yet to master the arcane art of the semicolon. Reawakening was a runner up in the 2014 Rainbow Awards.
Now, before you go, I want to take just one more moment of your time to welcome Elizabeth Noble to the Genre Talk team! Elizabeth has foolishly generously stepped in to help us grow and expand, and we’re so pleased and grateful to welcome her aboard.
As part of the new and improved Genre Talk, Elizabeth was instrumental in broadening our reach, and we invite you to like our Facebook page, join our Facebook group, and check out our web page. You’ll see lots of Elizabeth this coming year as we continue to explore genres and the authors who introduce us to them. So please take a quick moment to give Elizabeth a warm welcome!
Next time on Genre Talk, Caleb James will be by to tell us about his upcoming Fantasy release Haffling. Until then, thanks for joining us today, and have a happy and safe New Year!