Today I’m playing host to Marc Turner, whose novel, When the Heavens Fall, was released just yesterday. He kindly agreed to drop by with a guest post about the current undead craze.
Many years ago I was reading the blog of an SFF literary agent. In a post-Twilight world, she was bemoaning the number of books in her submission pile that were about vampires. Vampires were supposed to be blood-sucking horrors, she said, not something teenage girls should be swooning over. To make it worse, she was starting to see writers do the same thing to werewolves as they’d done to vampires. Where would it all end? Would zombies be the next monsters to be recast as cool, misunderstood, angst-ridden heartthrobs?
You can see why zombies might be something of a hard sell. Some people like a bad guy no matter how bad he is, but I suspect most readers would be put off by a protagonist who kills in cold blood then promptly starts munching on their victim’s raw flesh. Also, unlike zombies, vampires and werewolves retain a degree of humanity. They can kill someone and feel bad about it afterwards, which I’m sure will come as a great comfort to their victims. Zombies, on the other hand, are just mindless creatures whose only thought is where – or who – their next meal is coming from. How could you win and retain a reader’s sympathy for a character like that?
Do zombies have to be mindless, though? Why does the virus (or whatever it is that turns them into undead) have to strip them of their humanity? What if it didn’t? And what if those undead were then forced to fight for a cause they didn’t believe in, maybe even against their own people, or their own gods? Could you empathise with them then?
A while back I spent some time thinking of a tag line for my debut novel, When the Heavens Fall. The one I came up with was ‘Lord of the Rings meets World War Z’. I should note that this is not a zombie apocalypse story, but if you read the book (if? When!) you’ll understand the reference. WtHF tells the story of a mage who steals an artefact that gives him power over the dead, then uses it to resurrect an ancient civilization in order to challenge the Lord of the Dead for control of the underworld. Crucially, the undead in WtHF are not witless monsters governed by hunger. They are people brought back to (un)life against their will, and compelled to serve the man who has raised them.
If you were designing a force to fight for you, you can see why an army of undead would be a formidable proposition. An undead army has unquestioned obedience, does not tire or feel pain. Mark Lawrence uses undead armies in his Broken Empire trilogy, and in his Red Queen’s War trilogy. Tolkien had them in The Lord of the Rings. Then there is George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series. When I think of Game of Thrones, I don’t usually think of undead because in Martin’s books it is the people who are the monsters. But even he gives us White Walkers who are able to reanimate the dead as wights.
In a sense, undead are an ‘easy’ enemy – a bit like orcs and goblins. They’re evil. There is no reasoning with them. Put an undead or an orc on the other side to your protagonist, and she won’t have to worry about trivialities such as right and wrong when she gets stuck into them with her sword. The world becomes very black and white. That’s something I wanted to move away from in When the Heavens Fall. One of my viewpoint characters, Romany, starts the book in the same corner – sort of – as the man who raises the undead. She sees the undead not as people, but as tools to be used and discarded. Much the same as she sees everyone else, in fact.
But then she meets one of them – a girl called Danel – and she gets to know her. She unravels some of the mystery behind how Danel and her kinsmen died centuries ago. She learns about Danel’s family, and what has become of them. And that knowledge begins to change her. It is easy for Romany not to care from a distance, but it is harder when she sees first hand how the undead are suffering. Danel certainly does her best to make it harder for her. Before the end of the book, Romany will face a choice: turn her back on the undead and return to her life of comfort and privilege, or risk everything to aid Danel’s people – a people she has helped to condemn to misery and enslavement.
What she chooses to do, and what the consequences of her decision are . . .
Well, you will just have to read the book to find out.
Marc Turner was born in Canada, but grew up in England. His first novel, When the Heavens Fall, is published by Tor in the US and Titan in the UK. You can see a video trailer for the book here and read a short story set in the world of the novel here. The short story has also been narrated by Emma Newman of Tea and Jeopardy fame, and you can listen to it free here. Marc can be found on Twitter at @MarcJTurner and at his website.
If that doesn’t have you interested in Marc’s new novel, I don’t know what will. Oh, wait, maybe the chance to win a copy might do the trick!
If you pick a fight with Shroud, Lord of the Dead, you had better ensure your victory, else death will mark only the beginning of your suffering.
A book giving its wielder power over the dead has been stolen from a fellowship of mages that has kept the powerful relic dormant for centuries. The thief, a crafty, power-hungry necromancer, intends to use the Book of Lost Souls to resurrect an ancient race and challenge Shroud for dominion of the underworld. Shroud counters by sending his most formidable servants to seize the artifact at all cost.
However, the god is not the only one interested in the Book, and a host of other forces converge, drawn by the powerful magic that has been unleashed. Among them is a reluctant Guardian who is commissioned by the Emperor to find the stolen Book, a troubled prince who battles enemies both personal and political, and a young girl of great power, whose past uniquely prepares her for an encounter with Shroud. The greatest threat to each of their quests lies not in the horror of an undead army but in the risk of betrayal from those closest to them. Each of their decisions comes at a personal cost and will not only affect them, but also determine the fate of their entire empire.
- Must have a US or Canadian mailing address; no PO Boxes
- Must provide mailing address if chosen as a winner, which will be sent to the publisher for shipping and not retained by me
- Comment on this post to enter; must provide valid contact info in case you win
- Limit of 1 (one) entry per person
- Giveaway closes at 11:59 PM, PST, Sunday May 31, 2015
- Winners will be drawn and announced on Monday June 01, 2015
Thanks very much to Marc for the guest post, and to Tor for the giveaway!