Just as fantasy novels have had a big influence on fantasy games, so too have fantasy games had an influence on fantasy novels. Take Andrea Stewart's The Bone Shard Daughter (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), the first book of her epic fantasy trilogy, The Drowning Empire. In the following email interview about it, Stewart explains how — among other things — this story was influenced by RPGs.
Let's start with a plot overview. What is The Bone Shard Daughter about?
The Bone Shard Daughter is an epic fantasy in an Asian-inspired setting that follows the stories of several characters: a daughter trying to reclaim her rightful place as heir, a smuggler who professes not to care but can't seem to stop doing good things, two women in an established relationship struggling with the class differences between them, and a stranger on a remote island trying to unravel the mystery of why she's there. These stories all intertwine and intersect in varying ways and to varying degrees, some of which don't become apparent until further on, so I won't spoil it! This all takes place on an Empire on the brink of revolution, where bone shard magic powers the Emperor's monstrous constructs.
Where did you come up with the original idea for The Bone Shard Daughter?
I came up with the first inklings of the book years ago in San Antonio, at a food court. I was there with friends, and my friend Marina Lostetter (who happens to be an incredible sci-fi author) almost choked on a shard of bone she found in her lunch. It started me thinking about shards of bones being used for magic. I knew I wanted them to be used to power constructs, and what provides that power? Why, living people of course. So bone shards have to be taken from the living in order to work. From there I started to build out the plot and the world, thinking about the repercussions of such a magic and how it would affect the people living with it.
Funny, that would've made me think about lawsuits and never eating there again, but whatever. Anyway, your website says that your parents, "always emphasized science and education, so she spent her childhood immersed in Star Trek..." Why did you decide to tell this story as a fantasy one and not a sci-fi one? Or a sci-fi fantasy one?
This particular story I knew would be fantasy. I'd actually already had two books that failed to sell, and I thought maybe I just needed the right idea to start out with. So I pitched five or six very different story ideas to my agent, and she liked the idea for this one and one of the sci-fi stories. I was a bit farther along in developing the plot and ideas for The Bone Shard Daughter, so I went ahead with this one.
So, what do you think makes The Bone Shard Daughter an epic fantasy story as opposed to something else?
I think epic fantasy describes fantasy with really big stakes — which is what makes it epic. Is the world order at threat? Is the world itself at threat? Bam! Epic fantasy!
Are there any writers who had a big influence on The Bone Shard Daughter but not on anything else you've written?
Hmmm, that's sort of hard to say. I feel like when I read something I enjoy, it goes through a process of digestion where I have all these bits and why I liked them just floating about in my head. I don't think I always consciously draw from my influences. So I suppose the short answer is no? I can't name specific influences for the book, because that would be me basically just listing all the authors I love and it is a loooong list.
What about movies, TV shows, or games; did any of those have a big influence on The Bone Shard Daughter?
I was definitely thinking a bit about the puzzle-solving aspect of video games when I was writing Lin's storyline. In role-playing games especially, you pick up one item or piece of information, and you need this thing to solve a puzzle over here. Solving this puzzle gets you further along in completing your main quest, but it also unlocks yet another puzzle. Lin lives in a palace of locked doors and secrets, and while unlocking these doors gets her closer to her goals, they also uncover new questions.
So do you think The Bone Shard Daughter would make a good video game?
I think the bone shard magic would be a fun thing to play around with in that context. I don't know if the story would translate well. But I've really loved the fantasy shows that are popping up on streaming services these days. It seems a good medium for novel adaptations.
If that happened, who would you like them to cast as the main characters?
I think Lana Condor [X-Men: Apocalypse] would be lovely as Lin. I think she could pull off both Lin's hesitance and her strength. And maybe Lewis Tan [Into The Badlands] for Jovis. He's got that charisma, I think. I wouldn't be sure about the others. I honestly never even thought about it until people started asking me.
Finally, The Bone Shard Daughter is the first book in a trilogy you're calling The Drowning Empire. Do you know yet when the other two books will be out and what they're going to be called?
I have ideas brewing for the next two titles, but nothing for certain yet. The next two books should be out the next following two years. So a-book-a-year schedule. And while I'm thinking it's just going to be the three novels, I'll never say never. I have a lot of different worlds and ideas I'd like to explore, and only so much life left to live (is that morbid?). If an idea occurs to me later that fits in this world, I'll definitely dig into it. I can see a short story or novella more than I can see more novels taking place here, though.
Paul Semel has been writing about books (and video games, and music, and movies...) for more than twenty-five years. For more of his author interviews, visit his website, paulsemel.com.
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