My Favorite Bit: Tom Doyle talks about WAR AND CRAFT
Tom Doyle is joining us today with his novel War and Craft. Here’s the book’s description:
America, land of the free… and home of the warlocks. America’s occult defenders are the secret families who have sworn to use their power to protect our republic. But there are those who reject America’s dream and have chosen the Left-Hand way.
In this triumphant conclusion to Tom Doyle’s imaginative alternate historical America, we start with a bloody wedding-night brawl with assassins in Tokyo. Our American magical shock troops go to India, where a descendant of legendary heroes has the supernatural mission for which they’ve been waiting.
Preparing for that mission, powerful exorcist Scherie Rezvani searches for secret knowledge with a craft agent of the Vatican and tries to cope with the strange new magics resulting from her pregnancy. To save her unborn child from the Left Hand, she will risk damnation and the Furies themselves.
It all comes to a head in a valley hidden high in the mountains of Kashmir. Our craftspeople will battle against their fellow countrymen, some of the vilest monsters of the Left Hand Path. It’s Armageddon in Shangri-La, and the end of the world as we know it.
What’s Tom’s favorite bit?
Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to value in a story until well after I’ve finished it. For instance, Lieutenant Scherezade Rezvani, or Scherie (pronounced like Sherry in Springsteen’s “Sherry Darling”) is the heroine of the conclusion of my trilogy. She’s also the Islamic-American daughter of Iranian immigrants. When I first introduced her in American Craftsmen, or even while I was writing War and Craft, these aspects of her background didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Times have changed.
I didn’t make an initial fuss about these character elements because, structurally, this was an unoriginal move on my part. Tales of the military heroism of American newcomers are as old as the country. Despite pervasive and cruel discrimination, Catholic immigrant soldiers from Ireland and Germany in the Civil War and Japanese-American soldiers in World War Two were noted for their self-sacrifice. Action films frequently highlight the different backgrounds of American fighters. This is a very well-worn trope.
This familiar story had a harsh, implicit moral: exceptional sacrifice bought the newcomers their place at the American table. This standard wasn’t fair or ethically correct. It was often unevenly applied, and it was completely ignored in war after war for African-American soldiers. But it was a real cultural assumption, and it was basically optimistic about the openness of American society to immigrants and different religions.
Again, it’s an old story, but one we seem to be forgetting. Often it appears that we aren’t paying attention anymore to such sacrifice.
But what about my character, Scherie? She’s a science fiction and fantasy fan, a loving person, and (it turns out) a stone-cold killer for her country. Her parents are exiles from Iran. Her mother suspects something about Scherie’s magician-soldier friends, and her father had a troubled past in Iran’s secret police. At the beginning of the series, Scherie and her family are still caught up in the politics of exile in the manner of many immigrants (e.g., the Irish, Cubans).
Scherie is the first person point-of-view character for War and Craft, so we find out more about her faith. She’s not particularly devout; for example, she yells a continuous string of profanity along with her exorcisms. But she is proud of her heritage–when threatened with Dante’s version of hell, she thinks, “Yeah, Christian hell–so what? If I had to spend eternity with Saladin, so be it.” Besides fighting her powerful enemies, Scherie must personally face some of the big religious and philosophical questions: sin, damnation, redemption, predestination, choice. The fate of the world hinges on how she answers these questions. She meets her bitterest trials with the jihad of the spirit and the words “God is great.”
One of the odder relationships that emerged as I wrote the trilogy was the friendship between Scherie and the oft-times evil spirit of Madeline Morton (the smaller figure in white on the cover). Beginning in book 2, The Left-Hand Way, Madeline is unusually protective of Scherie, though she offers this protection in a manner peppered with rage, sarcasm, and mockery. Much to my own surprise, this friendship between a nineteenth century New England ghost and a twenty-first century soldier became the central bond of War and Craft, and what these two characters are willing to do for each other is an important hinge of the story.
Due to some accidents of Ukrainian history that took place while I was writing The Left-Hand Way, my trilogy concludes with events in 2014. Looking around at the world of 2017, I wonder what Scherie would think of this country that she served so well. So I’m mostly glad that I finished War and Craft before the election, as a marker of what I then considered the American norm–even an American cliché. Writing Scherie then was natural narrative; writing her now would have to be a bigger, angrier statement.
It seems to be a curse of speculative fiction that we continue to have to make the same narrative arguments–e.g., that slavery is evil even when it’s sentient robots or replicants. It would be nice to be able to move on to some higher level problems; then, those could be my favorite bits.
Tom Doyle is the author of a contemporary fantasy trilogy from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician-soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. The final book of the trilogy (and the subject of this Favorite Bit), War and Craft, was just released September 26th.
Some of Tom’s award-winning short fiction is collected in The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories. He writes in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.