Cover Reveal, First Look & Interview – An Ill-Fated Sky by Darrell Drake


The Tome & Tankard is honored to present the cover reveal for An Ill-Fated Sky!

Featuring the art of John Anthony Di Giovanni and the graphic design of STK Kreations, We hope you’ll agree that it was well worth the wait. In addition, Darrell has been generous enough to grant Tome & Tank an exclusive look at the first three chapters of An Ill-Fated Sky, so if you have been eagerly awaiting the second installment, head on over and fill your boots! 🙂

Darrell, thank you so much for joining us. I figure the best place for us to start is with the new cover, and also the cover you commissioned for A Star-Reckoner’s Lot last year. It’s a bit of a different direction and I know that a part of that was about marketability, but was there anything else you were hoping to get across?

I suppose it mainly has to do with the structure of the series. Where A Star-Reckoner’s Lot was initially standalone (and still is), each book in A Star-Reckoner’s Legacy effectively focuses on one of three characters, so the covers needed to reflect the change in focus from a single journey to a matter of multiple perspectives. While they’re all following the same story, each book’s story is told mainly if not entirely through the eyes of its character. Following that line of thought, I felt the need to make a further distinction between the series and the standalone. Also, John Anthony Di Giovanni and STK Kreations just do some damn fine cover sorcery, and I just wanted them.

They really are beautiful, dreamlike pieces – that’s quite fitting given some of your more psychedelic scenes.

Yeah, and I’m looking forward to what the duo dreams up for the third cover. It’s sure to be the most impressive of the lot.

It’s interesting that each book focuses on a different character – the response to Waray in particular was very strong, I think. Was that unexpected for you, and as a result was it tempting to make her the focus of An Ill-Fated Sky rather than Tirdad?

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and that’s still the case going forward. But I can confidently say I didn’t expect readers to cling to her so strongly. Not that I’m unhappy with the outcome, though—she’s a blast to write, and comes naturally as all get out. Maybe something’s wrong with me. Maybe. While I think Waray deserves a chance in the limelight, well, readers of the first book understand why it’s impossible for her to have been the focus of the second. Impossible! Actually, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy writing Tirdad, but he ended up being fairly pleasant once I started exploring his character.

Tirdad really won me over in the second book – I didn’t dislike him to begin with, but he had been very rigid early on. I liked his arc here – he was very much a character who could have been totally adrift in An Ill-Fated Sky, but he quickly finds his footing and begins to balance out his journey. He changes a great deal but he’s still the same man at his core, which must have been quite challenging to write.

Yeah, in keeping with the theme of the first book (and the series), loss changed him. But I hope to distinguish between the ways people can cope, or at least respond to loss. Tirdad had his moments, but compared to the other two, he didn’t lose himself in the process. Instead, he learned. Whether he became a better person for it is debatable, but he did grow as a result of it. One way to cope with loss is to continue or honor the ambitions of the deceased, which was part of what drove him. Besides actual honor anyway.

That actually brings me to one of my bigger questions – the themes of sorrow and loss are pretty prevalent in both books, but where Ashtadukht finds only despair, Tirdad’s journey is rather more hopeful. I think you did a great job of tackling the same themes from two different angles without retreading the first book, but was that difficult to approach?

Thanks! I did have to stop myself from writing him into her path oftentimes—to remember what set Tirdad apart from Ashtadukht. Fortunately, they differ so wildly that it was only her lasting influence, which will be obvious to readers from the first chapter or so, that I had to worry about. Otherwise, it went smoother than expected. It helped that, unlike her, he didn’t have to face the path forward alone. He had companions to rely on in taking care of him.

And Tirdad is, or at least was, a pretty straight arrow, where Ashtadukht was a woman who played things close to her chest and had secrets.

Yeah, you’ll notice he was fairly open with those dear to him, which is a far cry from how she operated.

Most definitely. And you talk about Ashtadukht’s influence, in fact we continue to learn new information about her in An Ill-Fated Sky. You mentioned that the first book can be read as a stand-alone, did you feel the need to tread carefully with An Ill-Fated Sky in that respect? Revealing new things about a character after the fact can come across as retconning if it’s not done carefully, and typically that doesn’t go over well with fans. Was that a concern for you?

Not at all. I had a clear picture of her character and story from the beginning. However, I lean toward and favor the hints you can find that only make sense when looking back, and only if you’re looking for them. That does translate to readers not picking up on them, and to take that further, characters. So in exploring her motivations in book two I was able to give Tirdad a better understanding of why she did what she did, of what she went through, and in turn extend this to readers who might not have picked up on some things or wanted to know more.

One thing that really grabbed me about the first book was that around two thirds of the way in, an event took place that completely changed my perception of one of the main characters. It was an interesting way to challenge your readers. How do you feel that An Ill-Fated Sky challenges us?

Probably challenges you to finish! Or, uh, well . . . yeah, that was a divisive moment among readers. One I stand behind, but one that was divisive all the same. I avoided something so radical in An Ill-Fated Sky because, as we discussed, Tirdad isn’t Ashtadukht. He’s healthier than she was by a wide margin. But as you well know there are some tricks up sleeves. Although none of the sleeves are his.

Personally I’d say that one way in which the second book challenged me is in taking what had been an adversarial relationship and turning it on its head somewhat. It was one of my favorite aspects of book 2, in fact.

Likewise! If I enjoyed writing anything in book 2, it was that. Quite some hefty changes character-wise on both ends.

And yet they stayed true to themselves.

Well, while the plot was planned, I just wrote the characters naturally and let them take me where they went with regards to that. The events at the end of A Star-Reckoner’s Lot and the beginning of An Ill-Fated Sky changed both, and in doing so made them more compatible than they would have been otherwise. I think.

I think it could have been quite awkward, but you wrote it in a way that was organic and fluid. I take your point about those events though, it definitely changed them.

I will say I posted a not-entirely-innocuous thread on r/Fantasy to see how readers would react, and to get an idea of how to move forward.

r/Fantasy is a pretty great resource in that respect. What was the consensus?

I think the general consensus was that readers wanted the character to change or suffer or pay in some way as a result of what went down, and only if it was an established mechanic. I agreed, and moved forward with it.

One thing I spoke to you about regarding An Ill-Fated Sky is your character development being very strong – it’s one of the things I tend to value most highly in any novel I read. But I’m curious about what you enjoy most as a reader, and how it influences your work.

I don’t think I entirely understand what I enjoy to be honest. But I’ve always been one to favor strong or at least intriguing characters over anything else. Give me a run-of-the-mill story and a character I can really get caught up in and I’m golden. That and tragedy.

There’s a quote by Nabokov (who was better with words than I’ll ever be) that sums that bit up nicely:

“Some people—and I am one of them—hate happy ends. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically.”

Looking at it now, it’s a wonder I don’t write or enjoy Grimdark. But I do tend to write what I enjoy, and I think that’s apparent to anyone who has read A Star-Reckoner’s Lot. Characters and tragedy are sort of my thing.

Agreed. So if there were one overall message you wanted readers to take away from this series, what would it be?

I think Tirdad said it best in the scene where he walks away from it all having learned from his experiences. He’ll have changed—for better or worse is anyone’s guess—but changed such that he can look at the reader and say with confidence, “Buy my book.”

How very Sam Sykes of you.

That’s what I was going for! But really, I think I’d be full of shit if I said I had some particular message for readers. There are themes no doubt, and messages they can pull from it. But nothing I set out to convey. If pressed, I’d gesture toward the ways folks cope or don’t cope with life, especially bereavement, grieving, and grief. To be more sympathetic to those who have lost, and to respect that we all handle it differently.

Your series is pretty heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism – what made you choose that particular religion, and what does that mean to you?

I ended up looking at Persia (though I don’t remember how I got there), and wanted something pre-Islam. I started with the Achaemenid empire, and somehow ended up during Sasanian times (approximately 224–651CE). So it was the juncture of wanting something in the region, which would have covered so many civilizations, and wanting something that predated Islam. History and religion found the Sasanian empire, of which Zoroastrianism was the official religion during most of the dynasty. Maybe it came naturally, maybe it was a planetary conjunction—who knows!

Regardless, the myths there really encouraged what I was looking to do, which was to follow this travelling demon hunter-problem solver of sorts. With all the legends and with the multitudes of Divs, there was a great deal for her to explore. This is the region whose storytelling would inspire One Thousand and One Nights after all. In that, A Star-Reckoner’s Lot is influenced by its history and culture, of which Zoroastrianism is only a part. While I try to leave reality to reality, it’s always nice to hear from readers who have been inspired to read up on the empire and culture.

You and I have discussed the difficulties of being a self published writer before, but what aspect of self published writing do you think would be most surprising to people outside of that world?

That’s a tough one. I’ve been in it for eight years, and while that isn’t as long as many, it’s enough that things strike me as normal that might not strike folks unfamiliar with self-publishing the same. Uhhhhhhh . . . how little most of us make? How much works goes into it? Holy moly. Still, I don’t know if that’d be surprising.

One thing that has struck me since getting more heavily involved in the fantasy community is how often sales and giveaways don’t necessarily translate into reviews – it’s a saturated market and people can be very quick to walk away, which leaves you guys fighting something of an uphill battle.

You’re right about the reviews, about the uphill battle—it’s all so much toil with little to nothing to show for it.

At the same time, we’re starting to see bigger publishers begin to sit up and take notice. That was unthinkable even a few years ago.

I think bigger publishers are seeing certain books that are marketable or are already succeeding, and are seizing the opportunity because the author has already done the hard work. Whether or not you view that as predatory, as long as both parties are happy with it everything’s tickety-boo. I do believe that this is a result of greater awareness, which stems from all sorts of sources. Generally, self-pub still has a very real stigma, but it’s crumbling bit by bit.

As far as what’s changed, there is that perspective, but it’s also the case that the tools available to us have advanced a great deal. We’re no longer limited to a few awful, awful tools with which to set up and sell our work. And with more self-published authors gaining experience, there is more out there to share.

Ok, so one final question – and this one is a little spoilery so if readers want to go in knowing nothing, this is a good time for them to bail out…

…The end of book 2 drops a fairly massive bombshell. There’s a definite feeling that the shit is well and truly about to hit the fan. Without giving too much away, what can we expect from your next installment, The Thousand-Notched Axe?

Shit hitting the fan. I need to do some research on, uh, the effects of natural disasters on people, since I believe that’s going to be the closest I can find. Maybe read some Metro 2033, too. With this one being from Shkarag’s perspective, you can be damn sure it’s going to be a journey unlike those of the first two, and a lot more bloody. This also means more research into things to do with her personality. And that the reader will learn more of her history that’s only been hinted at or obtusely explained in the past.

You can expect more of the smaller stories that you’re used to from the first two books, but The Thousand-Notched Axe will take it up a . . . notch. More’s at stake. I’m both looking forward to and dreading writing it because of Shkarag. Also, I need to fire this damn Chekov’s Gun.

And just as a fan of Shkarag in particular, does this mean we’ll be seeing inside her head as she takes the lead?

Yeah, you’ll be in her head all right. The third chapter of AIFS gives you a brief idea, though this was before the events of the book, and some things have changed or recovered. Hopefully this will give readers more insight into how she thinks and why. How she got to where she is. Background and context and all that. With her natural tendencies and issues as a div compounded by her personality disorder, it’ll take more to do her well than Tirdad or Ashtadukht.

Well consider me 100% on board for that. Thank you, Darrell!

An Ill-Fated Sky releases on March 31st, and is available for preorder on Amazon.

You can read the first three chapters here.

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