Zachary Jernigan is joining us today with his novel Shower of Stones. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The follow-up to Zachary Jernigan’s critically-acclaimed literary debut No Return.
At the moment of his greatest victory, before a crowd of thousands, the warrior Vedas Tezul renounced his faith, calling for revolt against the god Adrash, imploring mankind to unite in this struggle.
Good intentions count for nothing. In the three months since his sacrilegious pronouncement, the world has not changed for the better. In fact, it is now on the verge of dying. The Needle hangs broken in orbit above Jeroun, each of its massive iron spheres poised to fall and blanket the planet’s surface in dust. Long-held truces between Adrashi and Anadrashi break apart as panic spreads.
With no allegiance to either side, the disgraced soldier Churls walks into the divided city of Danoor with a simple plan: murder the monster named Fesuy Amendja, and retrieve from captivity the only two individuals that still matter to her—Vedas Tezul, and the constructed man Berun. The simple plan goes awry, as simple plans do, and in the process Churls and her companions are introduced to one of the world’s deepest secrets: A madman, insisting he is the link to an ancient world, offering the most tempting lie of all… Hope.
Concluding the visceral, inventive narrative begun in No Return, Shower of Stones pits men against gods and swords against civilization-destroying magic in the fascinatingly harsh world of Jeroun.
What’s Zachary’s favorite bit?
The funny thing, though? I don’t even like fight scenes all that much. I’m usually bored, hoping that the narrative quickly moves back to the relationships. I feel like most action scenes overstay their welcome. While everyone else is riveted to their seats during a shootout, or gripping their Kindles during a sword fight, I’m usually yawning. It’s not that the scenes are badly done, by any means; I’m just not the audience for them. I don’t even get much out of UFC fights.
So, why the hell would my favorite parts of Shower of Stones be the violent bits? Well, it’s got something to do with the fact that, being that I don’t really like such content, I nonetheless managed to write scenes of violence that excite me. After getting my contributor copies of the book a few days ago, I did as any jubilant writer would do and went back to reread some of what was now in print. I was overjoyed to find that the violent parts still made me grin. They still painted images on my mind’s eye, just like I was remembering a film.
(In case you think this sounds awfully braggy, note that I very rarely like what I’m writing. To me, it’s all just one big pile of clumsiness. Any occasion to say, “Hey, this ain’t so bad!” is an occasion for joy.)
But, thinking about this, I wonder — what did I do right this time round? I mean, I liked the fighting scenes in No Return, particularly the ones where I got to showcase some really crazy magical abilities or skull-cracking punches (or, even better, a combination of the two), but somehow they were overshadowed by other factors. I think, in Shower of Stones, I managed to be more efficient with my descriptions, increasing the tempo substantially:
They tried to pull free, but quickly realize their struggles were useless. The bowmen dropped their bows and reached for their swords. The remaining mage stopped his efforts entirely and raised his chin in defiance. Evurt crossed the remaining distance to them, swatted two of the warriors’ blades away, and took the third. Decapitating all three with such skill that each toppled gracefully sideways, he caused the mage to be drenched in blood.
He reached out and slowly, inexorably, pried the staff from the mage’s hands. He broke the weapon over his knee, causing a brief flare of sparks to erupt from its lit end. He thrust the jagged ends of the mage’s own staff into the meat below the man’s clavicles, carrying him to the ground to the sound of both ankles snapping, impaling his shuddering body upon the sun-baked dirt. The mage screamed until his voice ran out, and then screamed some more. Evurt cocked his head almost curiously, and then tore the man’s lower jaw off, silencing the cries to a bubbling exhalation.
It may not be to everyone’s taste, how it’s written — and Lord knows it’s ridiculously violent, even cartoonish — but I love how Zack-from-over-a-year-ago didn’t linger on any one description. If I can be charitable to myself (never an easy task), I’d say that the above at once sensationalizes violence and refuses to romanticize it. I do hate it when violence is cozy, too easy for both the characters and the reader. More than anything, I hate it when violence is reduced to coolness: Oh, wow, that was neat!
Even when an opponent is dispatched with ease, as Evurt does above, violence should have an element of horror to it. No one could do as Evurt does, but what if they could? What if the mind behind the actions viewed it with complete dispassion?
I’m glad that — for me, at least — I was occasionally able to convey violence without any sentimentality. Not only because the subject of violence deserves to be treated respectfully, with more thought than “it’d be cool to rip a guy’s jaw off, bro!” but also because violence is one of the last things to be sentimental about. We live in a society that has, to some extent, bleached the horror right out of horrific acts, and I don’t want to be a part of it.
Of course, this is my interpretation. The whole point of My Favorite Bit is for the author to look at what they love in what they did. Perhaps I am being too charitable to myself. What seems to hold some depth for me may just appear shallow to someone else.
And that, in and of itself, is cool. I hope readers pick up Shower of Stones and have myriad reactions. More than anything, though, I hope they find at least one thing to love — even if it’s not the thing I love all that much.
Zachary Jernigan’s debut novel, No Return, is a science-fantasy story filled with sex, violence, religion, and muscular people in weird skintight costumes living on a world where god exists and is very upset. A hardcover edition came out from Night Shade Books in 2013, followed by a paperback edition the following year. The AV Club listed No Return as one of the best books of the year. The sequel and conclusion to No Return, Shower of Stones, is out now in hardcover from Night Shade Books. Publishers Weekly praised the new novel, saying, “Jernigan employs hard-hitting and unflinching prose that’s as concise as it is brutal.” The author’s first proper short story collection — title TBA — is forthcoming in the early spring of 2016 from Ragnarok Publications.