Shadowblood takes a break from the Elder Races who featured in the earlier books of the series. Instead, it features a different horror standard; zombies. This does not mean I have moved away from the series Lovecraftian roots, far from it. The walking dead also appear in HP Lovecraft’s work, such as Herbert West, Reanimator.
I did not start out to write a zombie novel, honestly. The world over-run by armies of the walking dead in Shadowblood is the logical outgrowth of the premise laid down in Book One of the series, that some of the Terrarchs are willing to do anything to hold on to power, up to and including unleashing a magically created plague that causes its victims to rise up from their graves as flesh-eating walking dead. All sorts of dark, semi-technological necromancy have been bubbling away in this series since The Serpent Tower. In this book it simply comes to a head.
And somewhere out there is a necromancer using a monstrous spell to bind all of the re-animated corpses to his will and create an army with which to conquer the world. He is going to crush those rebellious humans and put them in their place thus preserving Terrarch civilisation. The fact that this will also make him master of the world, is, of course, entirely coincidental.
I’ve always tried to work through the logical implications of magic in the fantasy worlds I am writing about. Given the sort of necromancy available and the intellectual sophistication of the Terrarchs, someone had to do this sooner or later. This is the background as the plot arc of the series reaches a climax. The Dark Brotherhood, centred in Sardea, is exerting itself to conquer the world. And it stands a very good chance of achieving this unless someone stops them.
During the course of this book Rik strikes out on a new path, completing his apprenticeship in the art of being a Shadowblood assassin under the ambiguous tutelage of his half-sister Tamara. He is already something very different, having learned sorcery from Asea and having dabbled in the very darks art of Thanatomancy, vampiric magic forbidden on pain of death. Half-human and half-Terrarch he is creating an entirely new form of dark wizardry that may eventually make him one of the most powerful beings on the planet. He is going to need to be as he moves towards confronting the mightiest agents of the Princes of Shadow on Gaeia.
I originally set out to write a book that had nothing to do with the typical hero’s journey of innocent young swineherd to secret prince of Destiny. I don’t really care for prophesies and princes just like I don’t really care for books about beautiful super-powered outsiders somehow persecuted by the herds of banal mortals who do not understand them. It has been my experience that it is the people with power who do the persecuting. History tends to agree with me on this.
Yet somehow during the course of the writing this amoral thief hero started to acquire something like a sense of responsibility and a desire to change the world. He also acquired something very close to super-powers and God-damn it, he was being persecuted albeit for very good reasons. Amazing how the tropes of the genre can assert themselves despite all our best efforts. Like most of the characters in the series we would regard as heroes, Rik is doing the right thing for very personal and often not very noble reasons but he is doing them.
I honestly believe that very few people ever see themselves as villains. When I write from the point of view of a character I usually do my best to show them as the hero of the story at least in their own eyes. I tried to do the same with Sardeans. The people of the land don’t see themselves as the Dark Empire. They see themselves as the keepers of the faith, the guardians of the core values of Terrarch civilisation. And many of them are very dubious indeed about what the sorcerers of the Brotherhood are doing. They are not in favour of committing magical genocide. In some cases, this is because it is their property that is being destroyed. In other cases, they have genuine moral objections. Of course, they live in a world where they can be executed for voicing those objections. Nonetheless, some of them decide to do something anyway.
I needed someone to show the Sardean point of view and to this end we see a lot more things from the point of view of Rik’s half-sister, Tamara, Shadowblood assassin, sorceress, conspirator and noble of Sardea. She is, in some ways, a very wicked woman but like Rik she finds herself fighting against the Brotherhood for reasons of personal ambition, loyalty, rivalry and politics. In this book we see Sardea from her insider’s point of view, as well as that of Rik as he travels to the heart of the Dark Empire on his quest to put an end to the threat of the Princes of Shadow forever, or at least for his own blighted lifetime.