Stephen Aryan is joining us today to talk about his novel, The Coward. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Who will take up the mantle and slay the evil in the Frozen North, saving all from death and destruction? Not Kell Kressia, he’s done his part…
Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.
Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.
For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…
What’s Stephen’s favorite bit?
I like big swords and I cannot lie
When I was a kid I ran around playing make believe with my friends. We were knights and soldiers and heroes and we always had some kind of weapon, made from moulded plastic, a stick or conjured up in the mind. I started reading fantasy pretty much from the beginning so, for me, my imaginary weapons of choice tended to be swords and axes. When I was about 7 years old there was the TV show called Robin of Sherwood. This was my first exposure to live action heroics with the legendary Robin Hood. He was cool and clever and had a band of merry men. Soon after, I was running around the woods with a pretend bow and arrows.
As someone who grew up in the UK it meant everything is steeped in centuries of history. There is layer upon layer of different cultures and during various trips, school-enforced or otherwise, I would find myself in a museum, ancient fort, and very occasionally, the Tower of London. And I was always drawn to the ancient weapons and armour section.
Now, I should have said this up front, I’m not an expert. I have done fencing (with swords not wooden panels) and archery in the past, but I’m a budding amateur at both. Also, without looking it up, I can’t tell the difference between a German Messer and a French Falchion. Also, I’m not a member of the HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) community. But, I do love a pointy sword.
My favourite bit about The Coward is that I wanted one of the characters to have a cool and interesting weapon. But I really wanted it to be something I’d never seen before in a fantasy novel. As a fantasy writer my default was to just make something up, and why not? I’ve got monsters and non-humans running around, so why not a badass and interesting weapon? But, on this occasion, history proved to be a lot more interesting.
Like many innocent things, it started with a bit of research on the internet. Then I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole for several days. I found myself watching people forge an amazing sword from a lump of iron dug out of the earth. I saw someone make an axe from an old chain. I watched as Anthony Bordain met Bob Kramer, master bladesmith, and made an incredibly sharp kitchen knife from a melted meteorite. And then I came across Forged in Fire and fell in love with watching Doug Marcaida test weapons and say ‘It will cut’ and ‘It will kill.’
A couple of years ago, for my birthday, I spent a day in a real forge where I pretended to be a blacksmith for a few hours. It was the height of summer and we were inside a large metal shed standing next to a hot fire all day. I even made a sword. Of course, to make a real sword in a day is impossible. It just can’t be done. But, if you cheat and cut corners with premade materials, and you just want to make something that looks good to hang on the wall, then it can be done. The final product would fall apart if you hit anything with it, but it does looks pretty cool. It was an excellent and tiring day which only increased my admiration for those who actually make real weapons.
Years went by and in the back of my mind I still wanted a cool and original weapon for one of the characters. Then in 2017 on Forged in Fire I saw two finalists face a ridiculous challenge. They had to make a Tabar-Shishpar in five days.
In all of the years and all of the weapons, I had never seen anything like it. It’s a peculiar and extremely rare two-headed weapon that combines an axe and a mace. It is believed to have been used in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan by mounted warriors. The weapon is ridiculous, very heavy, lethal and also a bit alien-looking. It was perfect.
Something clicked into place in my mind, another cog turned and another corner of the Five Kingdoms was built. From this one weird weapon, a number of other things grew. I started to ask myself a lot of questions like, if such a weapon was seen as weird by everyone in the Five Kingdoms, what kind of a person would use such a weapon? And where did they come from? And how did they wield such a heavy weapon? I supersized the weapon, found the answers and kept building.
I still love ancient weapons and, if given the chance, I will happily spend hours staring at them in glasses cases. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch Doug hack a dummy to pieces with a big axe.
Stephen Aryan is the author of the Age of Darkness and Age of Dread trilogies. His first novel, Battlemage, was a finalist for the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for best debut fantasy novel. It also won the inaugural Hellfest Inferno Award in France. He has previously written a comic book column and reviews for Tor.com. In addition, he has self-published and kickstarted his own comics.