Cover Reveal and Author Interview: The Ikessar Falcon by K.S. Villoso

Artwork by Ash Navarre

The Tome & Tankard Inn is very proud to present the cover of The Ikessar Falcon by K.S. Villoso! I’m sure you’ll agree that it was well worth the wait. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is one of my favorite reads of the year so far and I can’t wait to see what the second installment of The Annals of the Bitch Queen has in store for Talyien and co. 🙂

Kay was kind enough to join me at the Inn for a beer and a good old natter about it!

Thank you so much for joining me, Kay! First of all I’d like you to tell me a little bit about your working relationship with the very talented Ash Navarre, and how you go from basic concept to finished cover. 

Okay, so Ash has been a longtime friend (about 13 years now and counting), and we all started out as young writers together. These days, she is an integral part of my editing process (and vice versa), so by the time she does the cover, she’ll usually have read the book already. We discuss what might work and usually spend a few days looking at popular covers and styles. With the Bitch Queen covers, a lot of the discussion was how to get the fast pacing and action parts of it across, especially as it will be marketed as epic fantasy.

That must be a huge advantage, having an artist who reads the books.

Yes! She knows what I’m talking about and cares about getting the book’s tone across. So I’ll usually give her a few ideas (including colour palette), and she’ll come up with her own as well. Then she shows me a few sketches and I’ll let her know which direction I’d like to take, and then yeah, there’s a bit of back and forth as she builds up on the art. I mostly trust her instincts and let her take charge of most of it…I’m just there to drool over the deliciousness.

As you mentioned, fast pacing was a hallmark of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. Can we expect a change of pace in The Ikessar Falcon, or do you plan for this to be breakneck to the end?

The Ikessar Falcon is a touch slower. The claustrophobic and thriller feel is gone, and what you have is something similar to an adventure or quest-type plot. Talyien gets a chance to breathe and learn a bit more about events, as well as deepen her relationships with the supporting cast. She is very rarely alone in this one, which is important because her sense of helplessness is supposed to be amplified now, and she needs to start to see herself (as broken by the end of The Wolf of Oren-yaro) in relation to others.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in that approach?

The challenge lies in the singular POV. I can’t indulge in scene shifts or POV shifts as with traditional epic fantasy with multiple POVs, so every event has to naturally lead in to the next. I have to figure out ways to show depth, to show that other characters are also moving and that this is a living, organic world, through her eyes alone.

That sounds demanding. Is it made more difficult now that the series has proved to be quite popular? It’s exciting I’m sure, but there must be some pressure that comes with that.

I think so. With my first trilogy, The Agartes Epilogues, I finished Book 2 and 3 right before the first one even made any real sales, so I was writing them blind and I really didn’t care much about anything but just getting it all done to my satisfaction. With this one, I realized that people will have their own different ideas about where this story is going. So the pressure is definitely a lot stronger.

And readers sometimes react badly when a series doesn’t line up with their expectations, regardless of the quality of the work. We’ve seen this with Robin Hobb – her Realm of the Elderlings series is undoubtedly a masterpiece, but time and again we see people disappointed because the titles were a little misleading.

It’s tough because as much as you love hearing people’s thoughts about it, at the end of the day, it’s still your work–still your self-expression. And especially a challenge when you’re juggling sub-genres like this, where you can read this as a plot-driven novel when it really is about the character.

Especially since you have said you didn’t really intend for Talyien to be a likeable character. Were you surprised by people’s response to her? It seemed to be a fairly even split between people who sympathized with her and people who found her offputting.

I’m surprised, but not in a way where I was expecting them to like her. I wasn’t–I don’t go out of my way to write likable characters. But I was surprised that people mirrored the feelings of the characters around her, and how strong these were, because in retrospect, she really didn’t go around doing cruel things or what. Just her interactions with people seemed to be enough for the readers to respond the same way and believe what the narrative wanted them to.

My feeling was that even if I didn’t agree with Talyien’s response to the people around her, I at least understood it. I found her to be remarkably consistent in her manner and disdain for sycophants.

It’s her armour.

And she certainly needs it. One thing we spoke about with regards to The Agartes Epilogues was the theme of the value of ordinary people – this time around, many of your main characters are royalty or aristocracy (though there are some ordinary folk who are major players). What’s the main theme you want people to take away from The Annals of the Bitch Queen?

This one definitely is all about images and perception, and finding your true self. In this case, royalty–and their titles and positions–function as masks, and are treated the same way as regular people, and the lines become more blurred as the series goes on.

So in some ways it’s a continuation of the themes of The Agartes Epilogues?

There’s always a bit of an overlap, as these are themes I love to explore over and over again. Human nature, love, resilience, self, and so on. You can kind of see it in the book titles for this series, where I use certain “images” which the characters have attached symbols to. Does “The Wolf of Oren-yaro” refer to Talyien, or to what she’s supposed to be?

Absolutely. There are a lot of different approaches you can take. And it’s interesting to look at those themes from the perspective of people used to wielding power, especially if that power is suddenly taken from them.

Which makes writing from her point of view challenging, as she’ll sometimes want to do things I wouldn’t personally do.

Is it difficult to get into that mindset, given your own background?

Sometimes, it is–particularly when it comes to her not having to think about resources or where shit comes from. But honestly, when it comes to her interactions, it’s a little easier; I grew up in the slums, but I actually went to an international school, and so I kind of know what it feels like to be disdained over a perceived higher status.

Because Talyien is treated pretty piss-poorly by some of the people who ought to be treating her as a peer.

It’s a power play, I think. She’s swathed in her father’s reputation, making it difficult to see her as anything but his child.

She struggles with that herself quite a bit at times.

She has to be the most overwhelming character to write about. The loneliness, the isolation…

I remember that her confusion at being treated with sincerity brought me to tears in the first entry.

Yes, I love that you saw that! “Why would you help me? What’s in it for you?”

But of course if you’re someone who’s in her position, that’s so powerful. Just someone liking you for you, wanting to be your friend. She hasn’t had a lot of that in her life.

No. Which is funny if you think about it–power and wealth are supposed to make things easier, right? But in this case, they’ve just isolated her more.

Right, and so many people reject the idea that people with power and wealth can really be unhappy.

The grass is always greener…

Absolutely! I recall you telling me that what you like best is writing soap operas against a fantastical backdrop – certainly your novels are focused on the human relationships over the magic and monsters. What is it about that approach that you enjoy?

Everything about it! The conflicts, the tangled webs, seeing how people and combinations of people react under certain circumstances…

You do make it sound exciting. Plus you have a knack for putting yourself in the character’s shoes.

You think that something like a scary ass monster threatening to end the world would be enough to make people get over their jealousy or something? Nope…

It’s what my stories set out to do. I indulge in all the character stuff, so while I pay attention to plot and everything like I said, and my books can be read as plot-driven, it is always about the characters.

I expect that’s why I like them so much. However, something that people have praised you for consistently is your worldbuilding. I know that is in part inspired by your heritage, but there’s an astonishing amount of detail in everything from food to customs to rituals. The different regions of the world feel very real and distinct from one another. How much is inspired by the real world and how much would you say comes from your own imagination?

I’d say everything is inspired by the real world, and I just tend to absorb them and then regurgitate them onto my world, if that disgusting imagery makes sense. I think of it as an extension of characters. Cultures, environments, heritage, etc., all these things form characters, so I pay attention to them because the characters would come out flat otherwise.

I remember odd little things, people dipping their shoes in oil as part of a ritual. It doesn’t really serve a larger purpose in terms of the plot, but to me those details are absolutely delicious. It sets your world apart from others I have read.

It’s fun! This world wouldn’t be real to readers if it wasn’t to me.

So I’d like to know, if you could live in a region of Agos-Agan, which region would you choose and why?

I’m going to be shallow and say The Empire of Dageis because they’ve got all that technology which ensures my comfort and survivability… I mean they’ve got their own share of disasters but since I haven’t written them out yet… it’s still safe in my mind.

Seems fair. Much as I’d love to live in The Shire, I know I’d miss the internet.

And hot showers…

So going back for a moment to your ability to place yourself in the character’s shoes… Yuebeck. I don’t even know how to put this in the form of a question other than ‘what the fuck?’ Where did he come from?

Is “clawed his way out of his mother’s womb” a good answer?

That explains part of it, but I’m more curious where in the dark recesses of your mind this guy crawled from.

It’s the same recesses where Talyien came from, to be honest. Remember when we were talking about isolation and loneliness and power, and all that.

Ahh, I see. So he’s gone in a rather more disturbing direction than Tali, but she could have gone there too.


And still could, presumably.

*evil laughter*

Say no more, I can see we’re straying a bit too close to spoiler territory.

Yep. Ideally, I’d like your jaws to be dropping with every act all the way to the end…

I’d like that too, so let’s change the subject a bit. Tell me something about self-publishing that you think people outside of that world wouldn’t be aware of.

Hmm, there’s a lot of the standard “It’s way harder than it looks,” type answers going around. One particular thing that stands out lately is how being in the self-publishing world makes us a bit more aware of “marketing tactics” made by others, traditional publishers included. Which addresses so much of the complaints people have with the industry: why do all the covers look the same? Why are they publishing THIS instead of THAT? How is hype manipulated? And so on, and so forth.

Outside of that bubble, it’s still easy to believe that it’s all about “talent” when it’s really just this big, money-making industry, and we all have to dance to the music. Because refusing to may mean the difference between life or death of your work, so to speak.

I’ve seen many talented self-published authors really struggle, which tells me that this idea that the cream rises to the top isn’t necessarily true. At least, not without a vast amount of work to make it happen.

Sometimes it’s a matter of marketing dollars. Like a fancy new trad-pub author that’s getting all the rave reviews and so on… are they really? Would it get the same attention without the weight of the money behind it? People have a way of latching onto the hype, make it like gasoline on fire. I get a lot of reassurance from the experienced folks that good work will thrive if you keep pushing it, keep writing, keep publishing, and so on.

Right. You’re extremely prolific and that seems to help a lot.

It helps that I like learning about these characters. But it’s a nice compromise between productivity and getting the best possible product I can make out there.

Amen to that. Thanks again for joining us!

The Ikessar Falcon is out on June 14th, and is available for preorder here.


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