Religion has been the source of conflict throughout history, in both fiction and the real world. Son of a theologian and purveyor of Fantasy, Tim Akers takes this subject into a brand new trilogy from Titan Books. THE PAGAN NIGHT releases January 19th, and Tim stepped into the confessional to pour out his soul…er…in regards to his book.
SG: THE PAGAN NIGHT deals with inquisitor priests, the dissolvement of paganism, and knights pledged to kill, all set against an Epic Fantasy backdrop. How much does your book parallel our own world’s history?
TA: The two largest influences from our own world are two historical events. The first was the slow cultural integration of the Angles and the Saxons following the Conquest, a period of history that served as the seedbed for a lot of our mythology and culture. The nobility was quickly Saxon, either by force or wise capitulation, and I imagine the tension that existed between the common folk, lesser nobility and their servants was pretty complicated. How quickly do grudges die?
The second influence was a similar integration of paganism into early Christianity. Especially in Ireland, it became common practice to rebrand the local deities as saints, absorb whatever practices were extant into the church calendar, and tell everyone they were now Christians. In at least one case, St Brigid, the priests weren't able to get the locals to stop referring to their saint by her original pagan name, so they just canonized the goddess. Brigid was a river spirit whose icon happened to be a cross made of hay, so the integration was fairly simple.
SG: There are many contrasting elements in THE PAGAN NIGHT: The Celestial Church vs. the pagans, Malcolm Blakley vs. his son, Ian. What is their relationship like, and how does it play out in the story?
TA: Malcolm is the hero of the last war, a fight that united the two nations of the island of Tenumbra, Tener in the north and Suhdra in the south, against viking-like Reavers who were invading. Because of his role in that war, Malcolm is beloved in the north and one of the few Tenerrans the south will trust. As tensions between north and south rise, the church looks to him to calm things down. Malcolm will do anything to preserve the peace, having seen the horrors it can bring. His son, however, is impatient to gather glory. Ian is also tired of the constant mistrust of the north that both the church and the south express. While Malcolm will put up with the inquisition in their oppressive rule in the name of peace, Ian (and much of the north) is sick of it. The collapse of their relationship is a microcosm of the conflict that is tearing the island apart.
SG: Gwendolyn Adair is another main character, who is charged with the position of huntress for her family. What does a huntress do and how badass is Gwendolyn?
TA: She's tremendously badass. Each house of the north has a hunter or huntress. This person is charged with culling the feral gods of the old religion from the forests, leading war parties into the primeval forests to track and kill mad, rampaging gheists before they can do any harm. Gwen does this in conjunction with the inquisition, acting as a buffer between the church and the north, only calling in the priests and vow knights (an order of priestly warriors sworn to the goddess of summer, given magical power to slay gods and demons alike) in dire need.
Gwen does all this with heresy in her heart. Her family, house Adair, has secretly kept the pagan faith for generations. They are hiding a sacred grove from the church. The dual nature of her responsibilities, killing pagan gods while still worshipping secretly in the hallowed forests of her ancestral lands, will provide the spark that leads the land to war.
SG: You’re a big gamer. What’s the closest RPG to THE PAGAN NIGHT?
TA: Any game you play with me as the DM. ;-) Seriously though, the world of The Pagan Night shares bits of Call of Cthulhu set against the kind of epic fantasy setting of D&D or Pathfinder. There's some of the old World of Darkness in there, too, with a secret world overlaid the mundane. Most of the world is very low magic, but in the areas where magic manifests it's very high. The vow knights and inquisitors are epic warriors, but their powers are turned entirely against the gheists, so they can still be threatened by mundane blades. The gheists are massive monsters, only manageable because they function according to the rules of the old religion, bound to sacred places or days.
SG: THE PAGAN NIGHT is your fourth published novel and the first in a new trilogy. What was your path to publishing like?
TA: In some ways it was rocky, in others it was incredibly lucky. I went the traditional route of writing short stories and selling those, and then building that into a novelist's career. That was kind of silly, because they're completely different skill sets. I'm really not a very good short story writer. The main feedback I got on my stories was that it felt like I was trying to shove a novel-sized idea into five thousand words. I started going to conventions to network, and met my agent at a party during World Fantasy Convention in Madison. After a few minutes of talking he asked me to send him a manuscript. I was writing a YA fantasy, and it turned out to be good enough to at least keep him talking to me. But in the six months between submitting the manuscript and hearing back from him, I had sold a bunch of short stories in the world of Veridon, and had started the novel that would become my first novel, Heart of Veridon.
That novel went to Solaris, right before Solaris started to fall apart. They were a division of Black Library, and BL decided to sell the imprint and focus on their core GW business. Understandable, but it screwed up my debut something awful, and the next two books kind of limped along in the wreckage of that. It's been five years since the third book came out, which was an intentional gap. The Pagan Night is something of reboot of my career. That gap also gave me the time to write the best book that I could. I'm very happy with the result.
SG: Favorite moment in THE PAGAN NIGHT you can talk about?
TA: The first time you see a gheist fully manifest in battle. It's already killed a knight when Ian Blakley, seeking glory, leads a group of footmen into the fight. They think they've defeated it, and then things take a turn for the worse.
“Well, someone should get back to the camp. Let them know what we’ve done. Send someone out to gather Sir Grandieu and…” His voice trailed off. He looked over to the dead knight. A tangle of blackness was gathering against the man’s shattered chest. As Ian watched, the pale white of Grandieu’s ribs was eclipsed. With a sound like grinding marbles, Grandieu knit himself back together and rose again, knight and horse bound together with bands of night and heresy.
“Oh, seriously, what the hells?” Ian said. Exhaustion beat against his chest. He unfolded slowly, struggling to his feet. Doone and the survivors closed around him.
The body of the knight and the corpse of the horse wove together into a grotesque hybrid of armor and flesh. The broken length of the knight’s spear wrapped tight with the gheist’s strange ribbons, shattered and broke again, given life by the fallen god to become a prehensile limb, tipped with scything jaws of splintered wood.
The gheist turned toward Ian, snapping those narrow jaws together. It sounded like swords clashing.
“Well. We made a hell of a try,” Ian said.
SG: Favorite fantasy archetype?
TA: The madness that lurks in the night. Things that are ancient and sacred and utterly unknowable to mortal minds. And the kind of bright blades and equally mad heroes that are needed to stand against that sort of darkness.