Nothing makes me happier than a good swashbuckler. Swords are way cooler than guns, and witty remarks while buckling someone’s swash is always amusing. (Remind me some time to tell you about my first-ever fencing tournament when I faced a guy named Free Wind.) My favorite book growing up was always the Three Musketeers, and my all-time favorite movie will always be The Adventures of Robin Hood. So, when I found the first book in Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoat Series, The Traitor’s Blade, I was intrigued. Here’s my conversation with the Canadian author whose books are like the Musketeers, only with a touch of fantasy magic in them.
Who’s Sebastien de Castell and why do we care?
I’m a professional procrastinator who periodically slams his fingers against the keyboard repeatedly until a fantasy novel comes out. Somehow, despite wasting inhuman amounts of time, I’ve had eleven books published in my relatively short career, translated into fifteen languages and with a couple of film & TV option deals (which, for the uninitiated, is not nearly as impressive an accomplishment as it sounds since most option deals go nowhere). At my core, I think of myself as a traveller – not just to different places, but through different careers and vocations. I’ve worked as a touring musician, a fight choreographer for theatre plays, a project manager, actor, teacher, and a half-dozen other careers in between. Oddly, being a novelist has turned out to be the steadiest job I’ve ever had. Oh, and I’m Canadian, but not the good kind who are modest and always apologizing for things – the jerks who sew Canadian flags on their backpacks and travel the world talking about the greatness of Canada. My wife has been slowly but surely breaking me of that habit.
Preach, brother. What’re your newest books about?
Play of Shadows is a swashbuckling fantasy novel set in the theatre. A young actor fleeing a duel finds refuge among a company of actors thanks to an obscure law that prohibits performers in the city’s sacred plays from dueling. However, when he takes the stage for one of their historical performances, he suddenly finds himself channeling the spirit of one of the historical figures he’s supposed to portray – only he’s changing all the lines and revealing secrets that powerful forces would prefer stayed buried. Lots of intrigue, sword fighting, and, of course, the strange magic of the theatre.
Way of the Argosi is a coming-of-age fantasy novel about a young woman on the run from the mages who destroyed her clan. She’s driven to survive any way she can, and tries everything from becoming a knight to a thief to a gambler. When she meets a mysterious card player who calls himself an Argosi, she’s offered a new path, but whether it’s one that will save her life or cost her soul she will have to discover for herself.
I love the blend of old fashioned adventure story and just enough magic. Where did all that come from?
Play of Shadows takes place in the world of the Greatcoats, which is where I tell my swashbuckling tales of intrigue. I’d written four books dealing with sword fighting magistrates, and so wanted to delve into something a little different. In this case, asking how the world of the theatre could be filled with its own magic and intrigue. I started creating these strange traditions like having some actors be such celebrities that they’re believed to actually channel the spirits of the characters they play, thus altering the script in subtle ways, or having constant violent struggles between companies of actors vying for control of the best theatres, all in the backdrop of a city finding itself under siege from within. Those kinds of ingredients always get my mind working, and as a reader, that’s the sort of fantasy to which I’m drawn.
Way of the Argosi came about because I’d wrapped up the six book Spellslinger series and my publishers wanted more books set in that world even as I was getting constant e-mails from readers asking to learn more about the Argosi. For those who haven’t read Spellslinger, the Argosi are a loose-knit order of wandering gamblers who created decks of cards to represent the various civilizations on the continent and seek out what they call “discordances” – people or events that could alter the course of history. What I love about the Argosi – and what I think draws readers to them – is that, in a story world heavily focused on magic, they themselves shun magic entirely. All their skills and tricks and talents are built on very human things like dancing and eloquence and martial arts and swagger. In a sense, they’re sort of like the anti-Jedi, because instead of having to be magically born attuned to “the force”, they have to earn their skills and find their own unique path through the world. Those things always speak to me as a reader, and even more so as a human being who is, alas, bereft of magic spells or a destiny.
Who did this to you? Who did and do you read?
My tastes in authors really change on an almost daily basis. The ones who influenced me the most when I was starting out were Raymond Chandler, Steven Brust, Charles de Lint, and Anne McCaffrey. As I started developing my style as a writer, I often found myself drawing from other mediums, such as Brian Michael Bendis the comic writer for character development and for dialogue my favourite screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin.
When reading for pleasure, I tend to read outside of fantasy simply because I can’t stop analyzing fantasy books. I read a couple of Walter Mosley books recently and was blown away by his sense of tone and the weight of his characters. Kate Quinn who wrote The Alice Network, The Huntress, and her most recent novel, The Rose Code, is probably the writer I enjoy the most in recent years. I’m not sure why since she writes about World War II intrigue which has never been my thing, but her style is just so engaging that I’m instantly pulled into the books.
How can we learn more?
I don’t spend a ton of time on social media, though I have all the usual accounts which I’ll list below. When people want to reach out to me, the best method is via my website at www.decastell.com/contact. Same is true if someone wants to find all my books in all their various editions and languages – go to www.decastell.com and there are links to all the buying options in print, audio, and ebook as well as how to get signed copies (something that comes up more and more these days).
Johnny Lycan and the Anubis Disk is now available in paperback and Kindle, and available almost anywhere from #BlackRoseWriting. It’s an American Book Festival Finalist for Best Horror of 2020. “Like Dresden Files with Bite.”