An Interview With K.D. Edwards, Author of The Last Sun…After a Brief Infomercial

[BLACK-AND-WHITE FILTER]

Me (in a diabetes-inducing tone):
They say laughter is the best medicine, but do you find yourself going day to day and struggling to find even a smile?

Are you tired of fantasy books that feature muscly macho men doing muscly macho things? Sick of strong and competent characters that are always strong and competent?

Have you ever read something and thought, “Man, I like this but I wish it was 500% more queer”?

Well, INTRODUCING….THE LAST SUN, the first book in The Tarot Sequence by K.D. Edwards!

the last sun

It features:
– Hilarious banter
– Competent but beautifully flawed characters
– A brilliantly intricate world based around a reimagined Atlantis
– And 1000% more queerness

Voices In My Head: Wow, that sounds amazing! When can I get my hands on this gem?

Me: Well, my friend, this is your lucky day because the book is out TODAY.

Voices: Today?!

Me: TO.DAY. So you can skip on out to your local bookstore and buy or order a copy right now. Or put in a request at your library and you get to read the book for free (I always joke that I’m on my library’s blacklist because of the mountain of requests I make each month, but honestly, all the librarians I know love them–so go for it).

Voices: Can this book fix my crumbling relationship?

Me: Um…y–yeah, definitely! It’ll fix your relationships, water your crops, and probably eventually ignite world peace.

And if you don’t believe my words, I’ll let the author himself speak, as we awkwardly segue into the interview segment!

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1) Hi, K.D! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself and your book, The Last Sun

Absolutely. Well, maybe. I deliberately chose an initial-only penname so that I’d be able to vanish into my novel. I’ve never been as concerned with making a reputation for myself, as I am in making my stories known. But I’m a native of the East Coast, and spent the first half of my life bouncing around the northern latitudes – Central Mass, up to Maine and New Hampshire, back down to Boston for 5 years, over to Colorado for 1, back to Central Mass, then over to Montana for 5 years, then over to Washington State (Spokane) for a few years, and finally to North Carolina, where I’ve more or less settled in the last 10 years.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer – always. I even used to write a serial soap opera in high school for a bunch of people. But about 7 years ago I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Time to fish or cut bait.” So I wrote a horrible contemporary coming of age novel. And then a less-horrible gay mystery. And then a borderline-passable YA post-post apocalyptic superhero novel. And by that point I realized I’d leveled up as a writer, so I started TAROT, the book I’ve always wanted to write.

2) The Houses of New Atlantis are named after tarots, and their powers are associated with tarot imagery and meanings. What made you decide to go down this direction? 

I’ve always been fascinated with Tarot cards, as an individual; and deep world-building, as a reader and writer. This is the best combination I’ve achieved yet. The Tarot mythology is just so damn rich with archetypes. I love taking them as a starting point, and building a game of courts around them.

3) Your magic system and some of the worldbuilding reminded me quite a bit of role-playing games. Were video games and/or pen-and-paper RPGs sources of inspiration for the book?

Oh absolutely. I plot and plan in terms of RPG. I would LOVE to turn the world of New Atlantis into a sprawling RPG like DRAGON AGE or WITCHER, with the heart of LAST OF US. The magic system in LAST SUN is so RPG – the way Rune’s abilities are limited by sigils, and the way he’s clever enough to use a single elemental power in several ways (like turning Fire into fireballs or walls of fire).

I should have had him smash more crates and fight more rats, and given gaming companies more of a wink…

4) Rune differs from many urban fantasy protagonists in that he’s not human. But his struggles are nothing if not human. I’d love to know more about your decision and process in creating an MC who is powerful–and has potential to become even more so–yet also powerless in many respects. 

I’ve always told people that TAROT was the first book I wrote that contained my darkness. And, indeed, as funny as I try to make the banter between Rune and Brand, the backdrop of the story – Rune’s past – is chilling. And I tried to be true to it. I believe that when you’re writing about abuse, whether physical or sexual, you damn well better respect it. That’s why it’s not simply backstory: Rune’s past, and the violence he encountered the night his court fell, informs all of his decisions, in one way or another. It’s why he can be such a force of nature in a fight, yet have no idea at all how to make small talk. It affects his ability to trust, to invest himself, to commit.

Plus, the fall of Rune’s court affected his supply of magical instruments. It limits his ability to be a constant bad ass – there are constraints on him, and it forces him to be very clever and resourceful. One of the things I like best as a writer is honoring those restraints, and forcing Rune to come up with different ways of extracting himself from a bad situation when his sigils have run dry.

5) Rune and Brand. Their bond forms the heart of the story. Did you have any specific inspirations for their relationship or did it just kind of write itself? 

It writes itself. It just does. I love writing their dialog. I love how much they mean to each other, and how they express that love – caring, caustic, and clever. I am so lucky they’re in my head.

6) One of things I love about The Last Sun is the way it showcases so many different shades of masculinity. Your characters are everything from sarcastic and grumpy, to gentle and virtuous, to awkward and whimsical, and more. And it’s wonderful to see this variety in a genre that often veers toward a testosterone-laden brand of masculinity. Was this a conscious decision on your part? And why do you think it’s important to explore these avenues in fantasy stories? 

It was a very conscious decision. I set out to make a modern fantasy with a main character who just happens to be gay, and I think gay men are fortunate to operate without a lot of hang-ups that are coded into straight men. Not to make generalizations, I say, generalizing.

7) In recent years we’ve seen a surge of diverse books in the YA scene, and it’s also slowly starting to catch on in adult SFF, with awards like the Hugos reflecting that. But to see an ownvoices adult fantasy with a full queer cast and a m/m romance plot is truly inspiring and exciting, not to mention groundbreaking. At what point did you decide, “These are the kinds of stories I want to write”? 

Back when I committed to really producing a finished, marketable novel, I had a tough conversation with myself about what type of characters I wanted to create. In the end, I realized that I had a certain luxury most writers don’t: I have a good day job. I’m not struggling. If I don’t become a commercial success, it won’t affect my ability to put food in my fridge. That decision gave me even more latitude to be true to myself and take chances.

I want to write mainstream fiction, and urban fantasy, and high fantasy, and YA, and zombie stories, and post-apocalyptic stories….. And I want it all to center around a queer main character, or at least with strong queer representation among a cast of main characters. That is my goal. To give certain young people a better reflection of who they are – something I didn’t have growing up.

8) Now for something refreshingly short! What was your favourite part about writing the book? 

The research. I loved researching abandoned human ruins, which were used to create the patchwork city of New Atlantis.

And I also love going back to my notes — I’m a HUGE outliner – and finding a one-liner that Brand is going to say that I’d forgotten about. I love making myself laugh with something I forgot I wanted him to say.

9) Do you have any recommendations for books and authors? Especially for those who have read your book and are now experiencing severe withdrawal? 

Robin Hobb is a master. No author has ever dug under my skin like her. I once sobbed so hard reading one of her novels that the collar of my sweater was soaked.

Graphic novels are a HUGE influence for me. Gaiman, Ellis, Ennis, Carey. And I like the early days of urban fantasy – Hamilton, Briggs, Harris, Butcher, Armstrong, Caine. I’m reading JK Rawlings’ (as Kenneth Galbraith) mystery series right now, and LOVING IT. Later in life, I started reading the really, really, really excellent YA SFF that was coming out – Armstrong, Black, Marr, Clare, Brennan. Oh, Brennan – IN OTHER LANDS is a riot. I just re-read that.

I could go on forever. Reading every day is important to me – I can’t imagine ending a day without it. I need to start a review column on my website; I keep meaning to….

10) If you could have any three people–real, fictional, historical and deceased or otherwise–in your adventuring party, who would you pick? And what would your classes be? 

Hah! I like balance. Definitely a glass cannon mage; a holy fighter who can tank and heal; and a ranged/melee rogue-assassin.

But if I were being creative…. Three people…. Oh, man, I’d definitely want Rune and Brand – there’s your combo of mage, rogue, fighter. And I suppose I’d want someone like Fitz’s Nighteyes. Perfect scout, good in a fight….

11) Thank you so much for your time, K.D! I can’t say enough good things about The Last Sun. If you have any last words you’d like to say to my readers, the bookish world, or the universe in general, you’re welcome to do so!

 

Am I allowed to tell people about the fan art you did for me? If so, I’d tell people that if they work hard & get published, I hope they have readers like you waiting on the other side of the door. People like you have made this experience of getting published a true joy.

And I suppose I’d say thank you to all my future readers. Above all else, I want to share this series with people. I hope I get the chance to write as much TAROT as everyone is willing to read – and that I entertain the hell out of you along the way.

Thank you so much for asking these questions! I’ve enjoyed answering them.

 

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In all seriousness, this book is the best piece of fiction I’ve read this year and it deserves all the success in the world. I can’t begin to express what it means to see bisexuality, and queerness in general, depicted in such a casual yet heartfelt manner in my favourite genre.

So take a chance and go check it out. You won’t be disappointed. (You can see my 1200-word gushfest of a review here.)

And for those curious, this is the first fanart I made for K.D.:

Rune Collage 6(7)

 

Review: A Trail of Lightning – Delightful Worldbuilding and Emo Villains

Trail of Lightning

Title: Trail of Lightning
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: June 26th, 2018
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic
Page Count: 304 (hardback)
Goodreads

Rating: 7.0/10

 

 

 

I had an incredibly hard time sorting out my feelings on this book and I don’t know if I can say that I succeeded. There are many aspects of it that I absolutely loved, but also ones that I really disliked. And the two overlap one another, leaving me conflicted and with a frown line that’s about to become permanent.

Let’s just begin with all the things that I loved. A Trail of Lighting is a post-apocalyptic fantasy that revolves around Native American culture and history, written by a Native American author, and for that alone it deserves recognition. Roanhorse deftly weaves Navajo mythology into a Mad Max-esque world and the result is unique and exciting.

The characters that inhabit this world are strange and vibrant. From mercenaries and medicine men, to a woman who manifests as a cat-person (and I don’t mean that she really loves cats; I mean that she has facial features and mannerisms of a cat), the story occasionally dips into a Wonderland-level of creepy and weird and I adored it to bits. And what I always look forward to in Aboriginal speculative fiction is the depiction of Coyote, the trickster figure. Because he varies from one culture to the next, no two authors write him quite the same way, and Roanhorse’s version doesn’t disappoint. With appearance and mannerisms reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi in American Gods–irreverent and dressed as a dandy–he’s probably my favourite side character.

The best urban fantasies have strong, distinctive narrative voices and this one has that in spades. Maggie’s narration is introspective, a little anti-social, and a little smoky–a-lone-ranger-staring-across-the-desert-as-the-sun-sets kind of vibe. The author uses a lot of fragmentation, which can sometimes make for choppy action sequences, but all in all, it’s highly readable and engaging.

Maggie herself is a fascinating and rather unconventional urban fantasy protagonist. She’s a monster hunter gifted–or cursed, in her opinion–with the power of speed and the ability to kill. This makes her feared and disliked by many. The entirety of the story (and probably the rest of the series) is her struggling to rein in her clan power, known as “K’aahanaánii”, and keep its bloodlust from consuming her. And the thing that I especially love is that Maggie, to some level, enjoys the killing. She loves the adrenaline and the control of it, and that comes with the baggage of guilt and self-hatred. And that’s one of my favourite kinds of stories–those of powerful men and women whose power is a double edged sword, one that comes with the risk of being devoured from the inside out. It adds extra layers of internal conflict that can potentially be catalysts for interesting character growth.

“Wow, that all sounds fantastic,” you might say. And you’re right–it is pretty fantastic!

And now here come the criticisms to rain all over this parade.

Let’s talk about the plot–or rather, the lack of one. While there’s a vague overarching goal that gets introduced at the beginning of the story, Maggie and her companion Kai spend most of their time doing the literary equivalent of accidental side quests. They travel from point A to point B, at which point something happens and they’re forced to deal with it before moving on. They end up having to constantly react to the things that happen in the world, as opposed to proactively moving the plot forward. And while some of the diversions are fun, it’s all very meandering and lacks cohesion.

Secondly, the antagonist. At the foundation of the story is Maggie’s relationship with her former mentor Neizgháni, who Maggie is kind-of-sort-of-maybe in love with. He’s built up to be this mysterious presence looming above our MC, and so much of her thought process and behaviour are rooted in this relationship that they’d had. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to meeting the man.

So imagine my bafflement when Neizgháni finally makes his entrance and he turns out to be the embodiment of the worst of the “bad boy antagonist” trope, complete with cockiness, possessiveness, no sense of personal boundary, and long, flowing dark hair. He falls under the Kylo Ren column of character archetypes–the ones who strut around with their capes (or hair) billowing and saying things like, “Join me and we will set our thrones atop the corpses of our enemies and bathe in their blood,” with zero hint of irony. For someone who’s had so much impact on the protagonist’s life, he felt incredibly shallow and campy. Picture a very pretty, very vapid Final Fantasy villain and you won’t be far off from Neizgháni.

Caius

Like Caius from Final Fantasy XIII-2, but minus the cultural appropriation.

The thing is, I don’t mind these types of characters too much in popcorn paranormal fantasy. With those, I enjoy the campiness for what it is. But a story with worldbuilding and a protagonist of this caliber deserves someone a lot better.

The ending also adds another bewildering layer to the story. Its big reveal is underwhelming and the motivations of the villain rather nonsensical, and moreover, it ends incredibly abruptly and on a not-insignificant cliffhanger.

And here’s the most confusing part of all this: I don’t dislike the book. While I did dislike so many of its individual parts, as a whole I kind of enjoyed it and actually find myself looking forward to the sequel.

Is it the most polished, exciting fantasy I’ve read this year? No.

Is it something I would recommend to people? Hell yes.

~
ARC provided by Saga Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Review: The Last Sun – Fantasy Written to Perfection

the last sun

Title: The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence 1)
Author: K.D. Edwards
Publisher: Pyr
Release Date: June 12th, 2018
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Page Count: 367 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 10/10

 

 

 

I’ve been sitting on this review for over a month, all the while rewriting and tweaking and coming to the realization that a written review can’t properly encompass the  adoration I have for this story and its characters. A hundred gifs of muppet flails would be a better representation of my feelings, but I figure I still have some shred of respectability and professionalism to maintain.

But that was more or less my experience reading this book–every cell of my body flailing their tiny cytoplasmic limbs in abject worship. Because The Last Sun shines with the light of a supernova. It brims with life and love and wonder and serves as a testament to some of the best this genre has to offer. It’s everything I want in quality fantasy and more: a lovingly-crafted, rich setting that’s a blend of contemporary and high fantasy; prose that moves from laugh-out-loud humour to quiet poignancy; caffeine-fueled pacing and breakneck action sequences; complex, unabashedly queer characters, and heartfelt exploration of the many kinds of male relationships.

The story takes place in New Atlantis, an island formerly known in the human world as Nantucket. This Earth is very much like our own–same countries, same pop culture, same technology–except for the presence of various magical beings. These magical beings used to exist unbeknownst to humans, but then came the Atlantean World War and the boundaries between Atlanteans and humans became frayed. Among these beings are those called the “Arcana.” Named after tarot cards–like The Tower, The Fool, Justice, and The Sun–they’re the closest things to gods of this world. Their access to immense power and their considerable influence within and outside of New Atlantis make them the de facto Atlantean rulers.

New Atlantis is like if Shadowrun had a baby with Neverwhere. Worldbuilding in urban fantasy don’t normally excite me because many of them feel the same. There’s either the fae–the Seelie and the Unseelie–or the paranormal–wereanimals, vampires, spirits, and such. You get the gist after reading half a dozen UF series. The Last Sun, though? It makes me giddy in a way that the Shadowrun world does. For those who are unfamiliar, Shadowrun is a cyberpunk RPG that’s unfortunately shadowed (no pun intended) by the popularity of D&D. And what I adore about Shadowrun is its diversity. Its major cities are a hub for not only human diversity–various ethnicity, sexuality, and gender–but magical diversity. When you walk down a street, you would see orcs intermingling with trolls, elves, dwarves, shamans, druids, and more.

The same goes for New Atlantis. The island is crammed with all manner of magical beings. Wereanimals, spirits, fae, ghouls, elementals–pick the name of any random fantasy creature floating around in your brain and it can probably be found in New Atlantis. Every corner of the story unveils something new and exciting and I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot tourist at the absolute wonder of it all.

The magic system is very reminiscent of RPGs–dynamic and fiendishly delightful. The plot moves from your standard mystery to something with larger implications, and its pacing grabs you by the neck and hurls you forward at a hundred miles per hour. And what’s incredible is that even though the pacing hardly ever lets up, Edwards still makes time for meaningful character interactions without disrupting the momentum.

The book could have stopped there and I still would have given it a very high score. But Edwards takes it a step further. Let’s talk about the reason this gets a 10 out of 10: the characters. Because the characters of The Last Sun have wormed their way into my heart, built themselves a little cabin, and are now refusing to leave.

In a genre that so often celebrates a testosterone-laden brand of masculinity, Edwards whittles down stereotypes. Take Brand, our protagonist’s foul-mouthed, sarcastic bodyguard. We’re all familiar with the type. But the thing with Brand is that he never shies away from showing how much he cares about Rune. He dons the tough bodyguard look and the emotionally vulnerable look with equal confidence.

Take Addam, who is a perfect example of the Knight In Shining Armour archetype done right. He’s one of those people that you want to hate because they’re so perfect, but can’t because they’re so perfectly nice. In fiction, nice characters–especially nice male characters and especially nice male love interests–are often disparaged as boring. Dull. Weak. Addam shatters this notion to pieces. He’s a pillar of strength born of unconditional kindness and love and trust–qualities that we as a society often misconstrue as naiveté.

And then there’s Rune, our protagonist. The heir to the fallen Sun Throne. Victim of an unspeakable tragedy. He lives in a tiny house on the edge of poverty with the fear over his head that someday his luck will run out and his enemies will catch up to him. But most of all, Rune is a survivor. And his display of strength–through his jokes, his empathy, his determination to keep moving forward–amidst the demons of his past is nothing short of inspiring.

But what I love and appreciate the most, and what makes the book special to me is in the way that Edwards tackles relationships. Specifically, the notion that deep, emotional intimacy can’t exist between two people who are not romantically involved.

I’m always drawn to stories about friends who share hugs and kisses and tell each other, without shame or hesitation, “I will walk to the deepest of hell for you.” Because my own relationship with my best friend is a very intimate one where we tell each other things like “You’re my raison d’etre” with complete seriousness. But I hardly ever see this explored in modern western literature–mostly in manga and anime.

Then this book comes along.

Rune’s relationship with Brand is different to his relationship with Addam–in that it’s not a romantic or sexual one. Yet it’s no less intimate. It’s still love. It’s palpable love that makes you want to burst into tears at the sheer beauty of it. To see this portrayed with pitch-perfection in a book–a fantasy one at that–makes me ridiculously happy. Reading through Rune and Brand’s snarky exchanges are always great, but the moments of quiet, during which they reiterate their bond to one another, are what makes this relationship so compelling. They make my heart soar in the same way that the genre’s best duos do.

What else can I say? The book is only just over 350 pages, but Edwards utilizes every single one of them and takes you through a whirlwind of an adventure. The Last Sun gives so much and leaves room for yet so much more. And I feel incredibly privileged to witness the start of what’s no doubt going to be a magnificent one-of-lifetime journey alongside these characters.

~

Review copy provided by Pyr and Edelweiss.

 

May To-Read Pile & Mini Break (Health Update)

Boy, this week has not been a fun one. At all. To be vague, something has happened (or, rather, not happened), and while it very much could mean nothing, my brain has been working in overdrive to churn out the worst possible scenarios. And the looming possibility that I unwittingly did something terribly wrong has been knifing away at my heart and siphoning off energy like nothing else. So I’ve been oscillating between getting too little sleep and too much sleep–and feeling exhausted regardless of which–with panic attacks in between. And it’s gotten to the point where I just don’t have the willpower or focus to write anything substantial for the blog (which is why I ended up skipping Top 5 Wednesday and Diversity Spotlight Thursday).

Anxiety is a fucking bitch, guys.

So I’m going to step away for a week so to try to figure things out. A part of me thinks that taking any kind of break or hiatus is going to make my content obsolete and my audience vanish–which I know is a common fear for most content creators–but, really, I don’t see much choice. I do apologize for the comments that I haven’t gotten to yet and for not being very active on some of your blogs this week.

On a cheerier note, I did get a May TBR list ready before this week, so we can still go through those today! I also have a half-completed Most-Anticipated list in the draft, so I might just end up posting that sometime early next week.

May-To-read

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang:
I’ll be starting a buddy read of this tomorrow with Alice from Arisutocrat and I’m pretty excited. The story apparently descends into brutal, bloody stuff in the second half, so I’m not sure if it’s a right thing to dive into in my current state, but we’ll see. I’ll kick myself later if I have too.

Armistice (The Amberlough Dossier 2) by Lara Elena Donnelly:
Last year, Donnelly’s debut Amberlough took my heart in its beautiful art deco hands and crushed it to smithereens. The first book was unapologetically, gloriously queer and explored the creeping emergence of fascism–making it very, very topical–and I expect the good things to continue in the sequel.

 

May-To-read2

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Native American urban fantasy is not something you see everyday and I’ve been looking forward to digging my fingers into this debut for a while now.

The Rig by Roger Levy
When I first read the blurb for this book months ago, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I mean, just listen to this:

On a desert planet, two boys meet, sparking a friendship that will change human society forever.
On the windswept world of Bleak, a string of murders lead a writer to a story with unbelievable ramifications.
One man survives the vicious attacks, but is left with a morbid fascination with death; the perfect candidate for the perilous job of working on a rig.

Welcome to the System. Here the concept of a god has been abandoned, and a new faith pervades: AfterLife, a social media platform that allows subscribers a chance at resurrection, based on the votes of other users.

So many Lives, forever interlinked, and one structure at the centre of it all: the rig.

May-To-read3

A Lite Too Bright by Samuel Miller
I didn’t know this book even existed until several days ago when I saw it among the deals of the week on Chapters Indigo, but I couldn’t not preorder it. It’s a road-trip story in which a teenage boy embarks on a quest to uncover truths about his grandfather who had been a very famous writer. In other words, it’s right up my alley. I fell in love with the premise and the cover and hopefully the content will be as equally wonderful.

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
This books has a similar premise to The Hate U Give and from what I’ve heard, it’s just as much of a gutpuncher. Give me all the books, contemporary or otherwise, that tackle matters of societal injustice and brim with righteous anger.

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I’ll definitely be checking out other books this month, but these are the definite ones.

I hope the rest of your week is much, much better than mine. See you all on the flip side.