Stephen Aryan is joining us today to talk about his novel, The Judas Blossom. Here’s the publisher’s description:
1260, Persia: Due to the efforts of the great Genghis Khan, the Mongol Empire covers a vast portion of the known world.
In the shadow of his grandfather, Hulagu, ruler of the Ilkhanate, is determined to create a single empire that covers the entire world. His method? Violence.
His youngest son, Temujin, struggles to find his place in his father’s bloody rule. After another failure, Temujin is given one last chance to prove himself to Hulagu, who is sure there is a great warrior buried deep inside. But there’s something else rippling under the surface… something far more powerful and dangerous than they could ever imagine…
Reduced to the position of one of Hulagu’s many wives, the Blue Princess Kokochin is the last of her tribe. Alone and forgotten in a foreign land, Kokochin is unwilling to spend her days seeking out trivial pursuits. Seeking purpose, she finds herself wandering down a path that grants her more power than a wife of the ruler may be allowed.
Kaivon, the Persian rebel who despises the Mongols for the massacre of his people, thirsts for revenge. However, he knows alone he cannot destroy the empire. When given the opportunity to serve Hulagu, Kaivon must put aside his feelings and risk his life for a chance to destroy from within an empire that aims to conquer the world.
What’s Stephen’s favorite bit?
If you held my feet over a fire, and made me choose my absolute favourite character from Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and probably the whole of the first trilogy, I’d have to say it’s Chewbacca. Sure, I love Han, Luke and Leia, and even R2, but Chewy is my number one. It’s not because he looks cool, and is seven feet tall, and can rip the arms off just about anything. It’s because from the moment he appears on screen, you know he has a history. In his case, it’s a really long one, at least by human standards. There’s a lot more to him than just being the co-pilot of the Falcon and muscle for the rebels. It isn’t until you get into the expanded universe stuff (comics, games, books etc.) that we find out more about his backstory and some of his other adventures pre-Han Solo.
My favourite bit from The Judas Blossom is a scene with a character called Two. Obviously, it’s not her real name, but when the reader first meets her, we learn that she’s a middle-aged woman who runs her own business and has a limp from an accident. At least, that’s what she always says when people ask her about it. She’s also a member of a secret organisation that we find out more about during the course of the book.
Almost immediately we realise there’s a lot more to Two than meets the eye. She’s lived. She’s been there and got the t-shirt. In fact, she did it decades ago and now it’s the turn of younger people with more energy to run around doing really dangerous things. But, the fight isn’t over and she still has a role to play. She is not one of the main characters in the book, so we learn bits and pieces about Two in passing. As space is limited, and I can’t show every single interaction and mission on the page, some of it has to be done in a form of shorthand, through telling or conversations.
I tend to write quite lean books, but even so I wanted to make sure there was room for a moment with Two. At the start of one chapter, there’s a very special scene where we see her in action. Not what she got up to in her youth, but right now in the present as a middle-aged woman, who is also a mother, wife, and grandmother. People tend to overlook, ignore or underestimate her for various reasons to do with her gender, appearance, age and disability. She knows this. In fact, she’s counting on it and will use it to her advantage.
The scene with Two doesn’t change the course of the book, but it does add spice. It also gives you a glimpse of a small piece of the iceberg. In this case, the iceberg is the characters and the world that I’ve built, where eight tenths of it are still underwater. You might not get to see most of it in the story, but now the reader knows that it’s definitely there, just waiting to be discovered.
When I build characters, I always know more about them than their physical appearance. I play around with their backstories in my head for months. I think about their families, friends and what motivates them. Their hopes, dreams, phobias and greatest desires. I have pages and pages of notes, most of which never end up on the page, but it’s still important so that the world and, more importantly to me, the characters feel like real people. It also means that, when I need someone for a particular moment, I have a whole library of characters just waiting in the wings, all of them itching to be on the page so they get a moment to shine.
The other thing the scene with Two demonstrates is that you shouldn’t judge a person by how they look, and you really shouldn’t underestimate middle aged people. We’re older and that means we’re (usually) a lot wiser than you think!
Stephen’s debut novel, Battlemage, was published in 2015 and was a finalist for the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for best debut fantasy novel. Battlemage went on to win the inaugural Hellfest Inferno Award in France after a public vote. The sequels, Bloodmage, and Chaosmage were both published in 2016, completing the Age of Darkness trilogy. His second trilogy with Orbit, the Age of Dread, was published from 2017 to 2019.
In 2020 Stephen was picked up for a new duology by Angry Robot Books. The first novel, The Coward, was published in 2021 and it received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly. The sequel, The Warrior, was published in 2022.
In 2022, Angry Robot signed The Judas Blossom, the first instalment in a Persian inspired fantasy trilogy. The Judas Blossom has been described as an “imaginative and sprawling reimagining of the Mongol Empire’s invasion of Persia.”