Friday, 21 February 2014

I've been talking to Anna Kashina about her latest book - Blades of the Old Empire


 

Anna Kashina grew up in Russia and moved to the United States in 1994 after receiving her Ph.D. in cell biology from the Russian Academy of Sciences. She works as a biomedical researcher and combines her career in science with her passion for writing. Anna's interests in ballroom dancing, world mythologies and folklore feed her high-level interest in martial arts of the Majat warriors.

 

You can find out more about Anna and her books at the following links:

 

www.annakashina.com

http://annakashinablog.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Anna-Kashina/215289654593

https://twitter.com/annakashina

 

 

 

Thanks for supporting my new release. It is a pleasure to be here.

 

Tell us a little about the world of the book.



The book takes place in the Kingdom of Tallan Dar, the leading power that formed after the breakdown of the old Shandorian Empire. The society is basically medieval European, but this is true only for the few major cities. Venturing to the north brings you into the stronghold of the Majat warriors, which many are comparing to ninjas. Eastward lie the vast grass plains, home of the nomadic Cha’ori horts. Traveling south, one passes through Forestlands, populated by Slavic-inspired people, and then comes into the desert kingdom of Shayil Yara, a matriarchal society inspired by middle-eastern cultures, but with inverted roles of men and women.

 

Only glimpses of this world are shown in the current book, but I hope to have the opportunity to explore all these settings in the future and to tie in all these different cultures.


The Majat are formidable, were they inspired by Wuxia at all?

 

To answer this question I first had to google Wuxia warriors, so I guess at a face value the answer is “no”. At the same time, the Majat were influenced a lot by reading and watching movies about martial arts. I believe this fighting style, relying on speed and precision rather than heavy armor and weapons, is much more efficient than the traditional forms of fighting typical to medieval settings. It found it irresistible to explore how this type of warriors would fit into what we are used to as a medieval European fantasy world.

 

The important difference from the traditional martial artists: the Majat in general dress much more elegantly. A typical outfit is black (for stealth) and tightly tailored, to enable movement without having flaps of cloth hanging in the way. Top-ranked Majat can afford it, because they bring so much money to their Guild that no effort is spared in outfitting them. And of course this makes writing about them so much fun.

 

Which writers would you say influenced you most whilst writing this book?

 

Oh, there are just too many. I always strive to achieve the efficiency of Terry Pratchett’s style, and some of his lighter humor. I admire G. R. R. Martin’s skill in character development. I aimed for some traditional elements of the “Sword of Truth” series by Terry Goodkind. And, I hoped to bring in some distinct folklore, the way it is done in the Lord of the Rings, but with very different creatures, of course. Finally, even though this book came too late to influence me much, I felt that N. K. Jemisin’s “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” explores a loosely similar concept, of near-absolute power trapped by confinements of the mortal world. I see these elements in the way the Majat warriors, while enormously powerful, must always obey their code. But this is a bit far, of course.


If you could be a character from the book who would you be and why?

 

I would like to be Kara, just because she is so powerful and attractive. But in reality I would probably be Ellah, a common girl who is thrown into the top of the kingdom’s politics. I only hope I can discover a unique gift that could help me through, like Ellah did.


What are you most proud of about the book?

 

I am very proud of some characters. Ellah and Mai are my favorite. I am also proud of the way the story came together. Writing this book felt like watching a movie, in which I was in control of the action. Seeing it all come to life the way I hoped it would was such a special feeling.


Do you have a set writing process, if so what is it?

 

I used to, but now I tend to be so busy that I just fumble through at every moment I can find to write. The only thing that remains the same is the overall process. First, I write very quickly and just put the events down on paper without trying to find the exact right words. I then come back for a major pass where I make sure everything is phrased as intended, followed by polishing passes where I phrase things as perfectly as I can. After a few of those, I put the book aside for a long time and then edit it again with a fresh eye. When it all comes together, it feels so good.


What did you learn about writing whilst writing the book?

 

The first thing that comes to mind is how to write action scenes. There is a lot of fighting in the book, and I quickly learned that if you just try to write down the sequence of events it gets boring and repetitive very soon. Instead, I learned to show just glimpses of the action, followed by reactions it evokes in the participants of the scene, which could be observers or fighters themselves. This way, the fight becomes a bit like a dialogue, and such fights are never repetitive and always much more engaging. This is one example where “less is more” in writing.


In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?

 

I have less than a sentence to say: “Never give up.” This is the advice that helped me all my life.
 
Bristol Book Blog Review:
 
The plot revolves around a prince with a magical gift in a world where magic is usually against the law (enforced by the church). Various inimical forces are arrayed against him, such as a resurgent ancient evil cult, the church, politics etc. He has to travel to the Majat stronghold to renew the services of his bodyguard, and source of affection, whilst those forces seek to do him harm. The Majat are quite formidable, a bit like the legendary warriors in Wuxia (like Crouching Tiger or Hero) that can tirelessly and effortlessly defeat 50 opponents, swipe hundreds of arrows from the air, leap from tall buildings etc.

This is billed as the first book in a new series, but I believe there is a previous book set in the same world with the same characters. I used to read a lot of fantasy so this felt like very familiar territory which allows the author to skip much world building and go straight to the action. Although it did have the feel of a second book rather than first in series. As it was an ARC there were some other issues which perhaps will be tightened up in the final edit.
The book is heavy on romance. I can enjoy books with romance in just fine, it’s just this sort of adolescent unrequited crush stuff doesn’t do anything for me. If you're fine with that and enjoy fantasy then this book may be for you. 
 
Overall – Romance and fantasy in a world of mighty warriors, nefarious plots and deadly politics.

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