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The Protagonist Speaks

Interviews with the characters of your favourite books

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Fantasy

Val Arques Caelan (of The 19th Bladesman, by S.J. Hartland)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a bladesman – a master swordsman. He’s here to tell us about a life of training young men bonded to the ancient gods to fight and die in a malign, centuries-old war against the inhuman followers of a fallen ghoul god.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

They call me lord of the Mountains, lord of the grim, forbidding fortress of Vraymorg which stands as sentinel to the great gorge and the dead cities beyond. But the Lord of Vraymorg is just a name I took when a queen banished me to this dismal outpost of the kingdom of Telor.

In truth, I was born many centuries ago in the sun-drenched lands of the Isles. Once an Isles man, always an Isles man, they say. Though I can hardly remember who I was then, before my life, my position, my wife and son, were all stolen from me.

Now, I am a captive of miserable duty, a captive of my past. I cannot escape it, nor the shameful secret that festers like a wound within.

Did you have any cherished memories?

I grew up under the shadow of defeat, when Telor had been conquered by a sorcerer-king who took the name “Mazart,” or overlord. Even so, life was good. I wed a woman I had been betrothed to since birth. Odd though it sounds, I was content. Until my reputation as a bladesman reached the Mazart. He invited me to compete in the prestigious Contest of Swords. I was nineteen. My life, that life, ended at nineteen.

What do you do now?

My duty is to train young men chosen by the ancient gods to fight and die in a malign, centuries-old war against the inhuman followers of a fallen ghoul god. I can’t afford to care about these young warriors, especially Kaell, the 19th bladesman bonded to the gods. For love means loss.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

In the latest book, The Last Seer King, I’m a prisoner in the Icelands, outmatched in a dangerous game with a clever, but cold and ruthless sorceress. The only way I can get to Kaell is to reveal to her a secret that will destroy me. But I’m running out of time. With my unique blood, the rulers of the Icelands intend to auction me to the highest bidder.

Continue reading “Val Arques Caelan (of The 19th Bladesman, by S.J. Hartland)”
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Tomas Piety (of Priest of Bones, by Peter Mclean)

Dear readers, tonight we bring you an interview with a priest more interested in his various businesses, from taverns and gaming houses. He’s a man who came back from fighting one war to find another at his doorstep, living in a grim and dark city.


The Royal Steward Samuel Lan Dekanov to one Mr Tomas Piety, of Ellinburg:

 You’re obviously not a Dannsburg man, Mr Piety. Tell us a little about yourself. Where you grew up, perhaps, and what it was like there?

My name is Tomas Piety. I was born in Ellinburg, and I lived my whole life there save for the war years. My father was a bricklayer, and I grew up in the alleys of the Stink with my little brother Jochan at my side. The Stink’s a poor place, down by the tanneries and the river, and working folk stick together there. Da was a working man, when he was sober enough to work, and Ma died when I had barely six years to me. I’d like to say “times were hard but we were happy”, but that would be a lie. We weren’t happy, Jochan and me, not with what went on in that house of a night.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

We had no money for toys when I was a lad, but I’ve got a cherished memory alright. That one night, that night I made it right between Da and me for what he had done to me, and what he had started to do to little Jochan. That was the night my cold devil woke, and spoke to me. That was the night I became The Devil Tomas Piety and no mistake. If I were you, my friend, I’d change the fucking subject. Right now.

Right, well. Ahem. Moving on – what do you do now?

I’m a businessman, and I’m a priest. The army made me that, but I’m not exactly what you might call godly. I own a number of businesses in Ellinburg. Various interests that bring in a substantial income. I own inns and taverns and gaming houses, and I have an interest in a number of…  vassal businesses, as you might say, such as factories and tanneries and forges. Those I don’t own, as such, but they pay me a consideration for protection and respect

Mr Piety, that makes you sound like some sort of gangster!

I’m a fucking businessman. You listen to me now. There’s a way that respect works in Ellinburg, and I don’t think that you understand what that is. I’m a prince on my streets. I collect taxes, aye, and I see that they’re paid, but in return for that I look after my people. No one goes hungry on Pious Men streets, not anymore they don’t, and no one robs or steals from my people either. Not more than once, anyway. Anyone tries it, me and my brother go and show them how unwise that was, and they don’t do it again. There was a time a woman couldn’t walk down those streets alone at night, and I put a stop to that too. Those who are sick and can’t afford a doctor are treated at my expense. It’s a closed system, to be sure, and participation isn’t optional, but once everyone understands that it works well enough. It’s just business, do you understand me?

Continue reading “Tomas Piety (of Priest of Bones, by Peter Mclean)”

Chandrian Smythe (of Books & Bone, by Victoria Corva)

Dear readers, tonight we speak with an historian freshly returned from a frankly astounding field study. He is here to tell us a little about his findings and a little bit about himself. Some parts have been redacted for our safety.


We’ve read that you’ve achieved the station of Third Rank Historian at the Grand University at the young age of nineteen! Did you come from a family of scholars?

The youngest ever to achieve that rank, don’t forget! I’m not one to cry my own news, as they say, but I did make history by attaining such a high level of scholarship so young — even though my role is to study history!

[summarised for brevity: he goes on for some time about the difficulty of being so intelligent and underappreciated before we steer him back to the question.]

Ah, yes! I was just about to get to that. Though it may seem hard to believe, I wasn’t raised in a very scholarly home. As the third child of a lowly house seventh removed from the throne — we’re distantly descended from common knights, you see, though my mother likes me to keep that hushed up — I was faced with much hardship. Often excluded from events of import as my older sister or older sibling would get the invitations before I. Always the recipient of hand-me-down clothes, if you’ll believe it, so often the Antherian silk would be fraying at the seams! Always of the least import, and the Regent hardly knows who I am.

But! And I’m jolly proud of this — I turned my misfortune into an advantage. I threw myself into my education, though my tutors were barely adequate and had a reputation for serving merchant families, if you’ll believe it. It quickly became clear that I had a gift for research and the kind of passion for history that money can’t buy. So mother sent the Grand University a modest donation and within a few months I was accepted into the University on full scholarship!

I consider this a testament to the rewards of hard work and scholarly fervour — even the humblest among us can make history! When you think about all I’ve been through —

Moving on — did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

Well, I suppose you’ll consider this twee, but when I was six I read about the bodies preserved in peat under the Elakkat marsh and I went out into the grounds with my little silver bucket and trowel to exhume a body myself.

Of course, I didn’t find anything — our grounds span a modest 260 acres and nobody of interest has ever been buried there — but my tutors were so enamoured of my behaviour that they implored my mother to have a sandpit dug for me.

They used to hide little dolls for me in there which I would have to dig up ever so carefully so as not to damage them. I like to think that’s where my passion for the history of burial rites first began.

[Interviewer’s Note: we were written by one Usther the Acolyte and threatened with black magic should we reveal Mr Smythe’s current whereabouts. Parts of the rest of the interview are therefore redacted for our own safety.]

Where have your studies taken you?

Why, very far indeed! It must be said that for years I wasn’t cleared for field work — jealousy is an ugly thing among scholars — but showing the same resolve and self-starting mindset that got me into the Grand University in the first place, I took matters into my own hands!

This took me all the way to [redacted] — and yes, it may be hard to believe that a secret community of [redacted] exists — on the bones of [redacted] no less! Truthfully, I hadn’t intended to leave it for some time, but when word reached me of your journalistic prowess, I simply had to meet you and have you tell my story.

Continue reading “Chandrian Smythe (of Books & Bone, by Victoria Corva)”

Benjamin Salazar, Esq. (of Monster City, by Kevin Wright)

Dear readers, tonight we reprint an interview held at a coffee shop with a homeless, disbarred lawyer, living on the streets of a city filled with monsters. Here’s here to tell us about the problems he faces, from drugs to werewolves.


-I’m here with Benjamin Salazar, Esq.

Mister Salazar, could you please tell us a little about where you grew up. Paint a picture. What was it like there?

Well. I grew up in the old mill city of Colton Falls, Massachusetts during the 1960’s, and what I erroneously believed, at the time, was the Golden Age of recreational drug abuse.

Little did I know my childhood experimentation with heroin and horse tranquilizers would pale in comparison to the shit the kids are pushing up their arms today.

-Ah…?

I know, I know. You see it, too. Jesus.

These kids today. Am I right?

Practically have drugs handed to them. Have everything handed to them. Don’t even have to work for it, that’s the problem. Have it prescribed by their doc or delivered by some kid named Tad who drives an Acura and lives in an old Victorian on Main Street in uptown USA.

The good shit, too. The hard shit. Synthetics straight out of China. Fentanyl. Carfentanyl. Pure. Uncut.

Man oh man…

And when they inevitably OD?

Jesus, everyone’s packing Narcan these days. Everyone. They’re literally giving it away. (Salazar digs into his briefcase and slaps a fistful of blister packs of Narcan on the table.)

See…?

But me? My day?

I had to trudge uphill through sleet and rain to score my overdose. Both ways. Into rough neighborhoods. Lawrence. Lowell. Downtown Colton Falls.

Black kids beat me up. Hispanic. White. Vietnamese. Everyone.

Jesus, even Jewish kids beat me up. My own people. And do you know how many Jews live in the Merrimack Valley?

-Uh … no. (The waitress brings us our coffees.)

About five. Really. Counting me. And they all beat me up.

Every. Single. One.

I mean, they’d take turns. Crazy, right? And one of them was my first cousin.

And … she was a girl.

-Okay, that’s … kind of sad, I guess. Maybe we should just move on. I notice you have esquire appended to your name.

Appended—?!

 Just what the hell are you getting at? (Salazar rips his glasses off.)

-It means ‘attached.’ I think.

Oh. Well. (He fixes his tie and sits back down.) Sorry about that.

Yeah. Yeah. I used to be a lawyer. A trial lawyer. Damn good one, too. That’s why I had the ‘esquire,’ ahem, appended … to my name.

Now though? I just keep it there cause I’m used to it and, truth be told, I’m a bit of a douche bag.

-A what? Oh. Never mind. Uh … so you retired from practicing law?

Retired? With the fat 401k and vacation home in the Berkshires? (Salazar takes a sip of coffee, waves a hand.)

Naw. I wish.

I was disbarred, y’see?

It’s that same old story. Perjury. Kickbacks. Abusing power. Clients. Drugs. Attempted murder.

-Wow. What a … a colorful career.

Career? Hell no, that was just my first trial.

During the opening statements.

Man, I’d gobbled down a fist full of magic mushrooms this dirty old hippy traded me for a ’63 Impala. I thought my hair was on fire!

Continue reading “Benjamin Salazar, Esq. (of Monster City, by Kevin Wright)”

Fergus of Weirdell (of A Ritual of Bone, by Lee C Conley)

Dear readers, tonight on the interview couch is a support-cast character, who seems to have taken the place of the scheduled protagonist!

He’s here to tell us about his world, where forgotten Dead Sagas talk about the rise of the dead and the coming of great evil.


You are not quite the person I was expecting.

‘Not what you were expecting, eh? Expecting Arnulf, or the famous Bjorn perhaps? I read some of what that scholar wrote. True, there are others who play the bigger part in his Saga. That scholar… Conley, what does he know anyway? If you ask me, he wrote about the wrong man for our part in it all. So I’m here. I am Fergus, lord of Weirdell. You’re best off speaking to me. I can’t say I know some of the others he wrote of, but Arnulf, his man Hafgan, the lot of them now… a bunch of grim, stoic bastards – You’d get better conversation out of that old hound of his. Ha! If you want the real story, sit, listen to Fergus. We’ll have a drink and I’ll tell ya true.’

Okay, fine. If you don’t mind I’ll start at the beginning. So, Lord Fergus, tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up. What was it like there?

‘Where did I grow up? Well, you must know who I am? No. Ha! Eymsford, lad. In my father’s halls at Eymsford. What! You’ve not heard of Eymsford? New to these shores, eh? Well, Eymsford is the seat of the high lord in the Old Lands of Arnar – my father, Lord Angus – he answers only to the king. So, Eymsford, a great place, and very old. A place of warriors. It was we who held the borders in the wars of forging, we who bore the brunt of old Cydor so our brothers could forge a new realm. It’s all in the old Sagas, you should hear it sometime.’

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

‘Do whores count? Ha! Aye, I remember when I was a lad. With my father being the man he is, I had a good childhood, better than most. I remember my first time on his ship, the spray and wind battering my face. I remember the feasts, the melees, basking in the valour and renown of some of Arnar’s finest warriors – it was a good way to learn honour. My most cherished possession though… I remember my first sword, the real thing, the steel, you never forget. But I always loved my first wooden sword. The old bastard had us training from the cradle with the Master-at-Arms. It’s how I met Arnulf in fact. We’ve been as close as brothers since we were young. Training hard with him and the other noble lads, good times, bashing up that sour bastard.’

What do you do now?

‘Well, now I’m the lord of Weirdell. I am lord and law-giver of the town, one of my father’s bannermen, perhaps one day I’ll take my seat in his stead.’

What can you tell us about your part in this Dead Saga I’ve been hearing about?

‘Well, let me tell you this. Times have grown dark of late. It’s grim news whenever you hear it. So you want to know about the passes – I take it you wouldn’t be asking if you hadn’t heard rumour of the deeds written in the Saga. For our part, it’s true, lad. It’s all true. I saw it with my own eyes.’

Continue reading “Fergus of Weirdell (of A Ritual of Bone, by Lee C Conley)”

Cassidy and Torr (of Moon Deeds, by Palmer Pickering)

Dear readers, tonight with us are fraternal twins, a sister and brother, from Earth’s future. At least, a future where science and magic clash, the best defense against rampant alien technology is magic, and the only hope for humankind rests in the hands of the legendary Star Children.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Cassidy: Well, we’re twins, in case you can’t tell.

Torr: We’re identical.

Cassidy: Haha. You wish you looked like me.

Torr: I do, actually. Your eyes, anyway.

Cassidy: Awww, that’s sweet.

Torr: We grew up in Mt. Shasta, in California.

Cassidy: Land of the crazy shamans. We got out just in time.

Torr: Or, we left too soon. Depends on how you look at it.

Cassidy: True. The shamans protected us from the Tegs. If we were in Shasta right now, we’d be safe on Earth, instead of on this god-forsaken rock.

Torr: The moon’s not so bad.

Cassidy: [eye roll] It sucks. Just sayin’. So, what questions do you want to ask us?

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

Cassidy: My favorite toy was Grandma Leann’s mirror.

Torr: A dangerous weapon.

Cassidy: [Laughs] I used to be able to move things with it. It was awesome.

Torr: I saw the flaming monster woman in it once when I was a kid. I wouldn’t go near that thing for years afterward.

What do you do now?

Torr: We’re refugees on the moon. I feel kind of useless. There’s not much to do here.

Cassidy: We’re supposed to save the world. Earth, that is. And the other planets too, I guess. Seems kinda ridiculous.

Torr: People think we’re the Star Children, and we’re supposed to find our ancestors on a lost planet across the galaxy. The golden Star People. But nobody knows where the home planet is. It’s kind of stressful having everybody look at you with this burning hope in their eyes. I mean, you’d think we were magical saviors or something.

Cassidy: We need to learn magic.

Torr: Yeah. We need to go to the planet Muria.

Cassidy: But then we’d have to leave here.

Torr: I thought you wanted to leave.

Cassidy: I do. I don’t.

Torr: Errgh.

Continue reading “Cassidy and Torr (of Moon Deeds, by Palmer Pickering)”

Nenn (of River of Thieves, by Clayton Snyder)

Dear readers, tonight with us a thief, a knife-fighter who robs from the rich and gives (some of it, at least) to the poor. She is here to tell us about the biggest heist — to steal the heart of a saint and punish a tyrant — and about her partner who keeps dying.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

The Veldt? The river dominates it. Men with money and religion on their side keeping the ones without down. And the rest of us, we do what we can. Cord n’ me, we make our own luck though. Better to be free on the road than tied to a post.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I had a knife. It was shiny. I named it Knifey.

My parents dumped me at Our Lady of Perpetual Weeping and Moaning. I don’t know if they were too poor to afford me, or too weak to raise me, but in the end, the nuns got me. No. I don’t think nuns is the right word. They were temporary guardians. We tended the grounds, and sometimes were rented out for work—not like that. They were rarely kind, but they also weren’t lunatics. I don’t think religion ever entered into it. OLOPWAM was a business, and they ran it like one.

When I turned seventeen, they released me, and I made my own way. Sometimes honestly, busting my back at the mill. Other times, not so honestly, busting teeth and heads in the alleys for a little money.

What do you do now?

I rob people. And sometimes stick knives in the assholes who deserve it. Oh, we don’t keep it all. Cord says that’s selfish. You gotta give. There are people even smaller than you, and no one deserves to be on the bottom rung. I guess he’s right, but I’d sure like a new pair of boots and something to eat that isn’t dried fish.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

Cord’s got a plan. We’re getting his old gang back together. This big mountain named Rek, a really pretty, but a bit cracked lady, named Lux. There’s enough suffering in this world and seeing men like Anaxos Mane take more—well that doesn’t sit right with any of us.

Continue reading “Nenn (of River of Thieves, by Clayton Snyder)”

Ahmed Justinius (of Sins of the Fathers trilogy, by Matthew P. Gilbert)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a man from a Middle-Eastern inspired fantasy world. He has been drafted by his god and his prophet to a war against ancient sorcerers, in a battle at the end of day.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

It’s hot, and there is a great deal of sand. And scorpions. A wise man always checks his shoes. I received regular beatings from my master, Yazid, for ignoring my studies or being insolent. About half of them, I counted as unfair. The rest were simply the cost of doing as I wished.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I had a wooden sword I was very fond of, but I barely remember it. Yazid gave me one of steel when I was five, and told me to put away useless children’s things. I have no idea what became of the toy sword. Likely, Yazid destroyed it.

What do you do now?

Mostly, I obey Yazid or I get my ears boxed. I’d guess it’s about sixty/forty as to which. He is very strong, and very fast. I have no hope of beating him in a contest of fists.

Continue reading “Ahmed Justinius (of Sins of the Fathers trilogy, by Matthew P. Gilbert)”

Em 19 (of Guardian Blood, by Nicholas Hoy)

Dear readers, tonight with us is a smuggler from a world where magic and technology interact freely. She is here to tell us about living in the shadows of the underworld, about high-rise conspiracies, and about the times humans still ruled the world.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Crescent City’s been called paradise on Earth, as you well know, with Mage-grown skyscrapers that climb for miles, all connected by breathtaking, nature-encrusted skywalks. But that’s not exactly where I grew up. Throw yourself over the edge of any one of those buildings and eventually you’ll end up in Low-Town, a red stain on darkened streets, if you don’t smash into one of the countless sun-blotting skywalks first. Low-Town, a place of perpetual darkness, if not for the neon glow of a million signs, will slit your throat just to watch you bleed out. It’s a hard place to grow up, but I’d rather be forged in Low-Town than pampered in paradise with the rest of the sheep.   

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

Favorite toy? Not so much. Cherished possession? Yeah, my retractable palm blade. You see, Black Leaves, one of the more ruthless gangs, get off by preying on helpless girls. They would often loiter outside the orphanage, waiting for one or two of us to head to the store. Their mutilated victims almost always ended up dead or wishing they were. I can’t tell you how many times that old piece of steel saved my life.

What do you do for a living?

Dealing in Magical Technologies (Tech) is one of the more lucrative businesses on the planet. However, as all Tech is required by order of the Administration to be licensed, and all licenses are traceable, it falls to me to find buyers willing to pay for the anonymity unlicensed Tech affords them. Does that make me a Tech smuggler? Sure. Could it get me killed? Sure. But they gotta catch me first.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

Breaking about six separate border laws, I bypassed security and portaled up to the world above for what was supposed to be an easy score. Have I mentioned how much I hate going topside? Well, I do—a lot. It rarely goes well, but the payoff is almost always worth it. Fleeing the authorities in Low-Town is a simple thing, given the intense overpopulation and cramped spaces, but up there, where the corporations create laws and machinations to subjugate the weak, the Aquilae have a much easier time of snuffing out crime and either arresting or executing criminals right there on the spot, especially some illegal Townie no one would miss.

A society contact from up there got word to me that a low-level engineer for Corporate Technologies (CorTex) found out that he was about to get the axe, and decided to be proactive by squirrelling away several pieces of high-end Tech before they could let him go. The plan was simple; meet the engineer, inspect the stolen Tech, offer him half of whatever he was hoping to get, secure the Tech, and get my happy-ass back to Low-Town. Well, like every other arrogant topsider, he screwed me over. An entire squadron of Aquilae were waiting when I got there. Overkill, if you ask me. Even one Aquilae is usually more than enough to contend with a Prime Mage, let alone some Townie smuggler like me. It’s a rare thing to catch me off guard, though, and so I unloaded everything I had on ‘em and was barely able to slip through a portal. The only reason I’m still alive at all was because I was wearing a Prime Infernal Ring. Watching half a dozen Administration enforcers turned into so much ash was almost worth all the Tech I had to use up just to save my own neck. To this day, I still don’t know who sold me out, but I never heard from that contact again. Is that what you meant by adventure? For me, it was just another day at the office.

Continue reading “Em 19 (of Guardian Blood, by Nicholas Hoy)”

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