Today’s guest post comes from Loren Rhoads, the author of the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy, published by Night Shade Books. The Dangerous Type is out now, followed by Kill By Numbers on September 1 and the conclusion, No More Heroes, on November 3.
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When Publishers Weekly reviewed my novel The Dangerous Type, they accused me of trying to bring the style of grimdark fantasy to space opera. I wasn’t familiar with the term grimdark — and even though I liked the sound of it, I wasn’t sure it was meant as a compliment — so I emailed my gaming friend Seth. He wrote, “Grimdark can mean different things to different people, but for me at least, if I saw a review like that, I’d immediately be interested in reading the book.” He equated grimdark fantasy with betrayals, hopelessness, and, often, social commentary. Seemed like the shoe fit…
The phrase grimdark comes from the game Warhammer 40K, whose tagline is “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” So grimdark started out as science fiction, got applied to fantasy (think Game of Thrones), and now is wrapping a tentacle around space opera.
In The Dangerous Type, the Human-Templar War ended while Raena Zacari spent 20 years in prison, but the struggle is far from over. The Templars are dead, wiped out by a human-engineered plague. The human empire that conceived and disseminated the plague — and imprisoned Raena — has been dismantled. Humans are spread thin across the galaxy, refugees and survivors of the tribunals after the War. Still, the galaxy pays lip service to the fiction that “even humans have rights.”
Of the humans who survive, the Thallian clan epitomizes grimdark. Jonan Thallian served the empire as a nominal diplomat, capturing and torturing humans who stood against the Empire’s expansionist dreams. Blackmailed over his relationship with Raena into spreading the plague, Thallian saw his family nearly wiped out at the end of the War. The remnants hid in the depths of their home ocean, while their planet was executed in their stead, bombed into perpetual winter.
In the years after the War ended, Jonan has cloned himself sons. He’s trained the boys as human shields, cannon fodder who will throw themselves between danger and their father. Maybe that’s grim enough to earn the label. I was inspired by the stories of the child soldiers in Africa, stolen in the middle of the night and told to fight or else. When you’re a child, you do what you have to in order to survive. If they praise you for it, you learn to like it.
In an essay about “The Appeal of Grimdark,” (http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2015/07/the-appeal-of-grimdark-by-c-t-phipps-author-of-esoterrorism/) C.T. Phipps, the author of Esoterrorism, boils grimdark down to two questions: “Is the situation screwed up beyond all repair? Do your heroes fight anyway?” Which is exactly what I’m aiming for: Raena knows as soon as she walks out of her tomb that if Thallian survived the War, he will hunt her down. She knows he will exhaust every resource, expend every minion, until he gets her back.
She’s prepared to give up and choose death until Doc tells her it’s time to take the fight to Thallian. From that point on, Raena is obsessed with training, getting her strength back, and preparing to do the job. She doesn’t expect to survive the confrontation, but as Doc says, Raena is the last person left in the galaxy who knows how Thallian thinks. She’s the only person who can bring him down.
Raena is fairly clear-eyed about her role. Thallian trained her as a killer. She’s going to kill everyone who gets between her and her former commander. As FantasyReviewBarn.com recognizes, “she does show a few small acts of mercy (and some that even she knows only remain a mercy in the short term).” She’s avenging the Templars because she’s the only one who can. Still, she doesn’t see herself as a hero, only as an agent of fate.
If that’s grimdark, that I accept the designation with glee.
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The trilogy’s home page: http://lorenrhoads.com/writing/the-dangerous-type/
Night Shade’s page: http://www.nightshadebooks.com/book_authors/loren-rhoads/
Powell’s Books: http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9781597808149-0
Indie Bound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781597808149
Loren’s blog: http://lorenrhoads.com/blog
Loren on Facebook: www.facebook.com/loren.rhoads.5
Loren on Twitter: http://twitter.com/morbidloren