An Interview with Drew Karpyshyn, Author, Children of Fire

With the release of Children of Fire, Karpyshyn invites his fans to enter a world of entirely his own making:

Children of Fire:

Long ago the gods chose a great hero to act as their agent in the mortal world and to stand against the demonic spawn of Chaos. The gods gifted their champion, Daemron, with three magical Talismans: a sword, a ring, and a crown. But the awesome power at his command corrupted Daemron, turning him from savior to destroyer. Filled with pride, he dared to challenge the gods themselves. Siding with the Chaos spawn, Daemron waged a titanic battle against the Immortals. In the end, Daemron was defeated, the Talismans were lost, and Chaos was sealed off behind the Legacy—a magical barrier the gods sacrificed themselves to create.

Now the Legacy is fading. On the other side, the banished Daemron stirs. And across the scattered corners of the land, four children are born of suffering and strife, each touched by one aspect of Daemron himself—wizard, warrior, prophet, king.

Bound by a connection deeper than blood, the Children of Fire will either restore the Legacy or bring it crashing down, freeing Daemron to wreak his vengeance upon the mortal world.

What is it like to step away from the fully-formed science fiction universes of Star Wars and Mass Effect and start with a fresh, unknown fantasy setting?

I loved working in the Star Wars and Mass Effect universes. It’s great being part of something that you know fans already love and care about it, and I was honored to be able to add my own little contribution. But Children of Fire is a whole other challenge – and not just because I moved from sci-fi to fantasy. In addition to telling the story, I’m responsible for creating the entire world. That means doing a lot of background planning that might not even make it into the books, but it’s important for me to have it so that the world feels real. It was a new challenge for me, but one I really enjoyed.

I understand that you’ve tried to create a classic fantasy storyline with a focus on action first. How much of this goal was informed by your background in video games? What kind of guidelines did you follow to accomplish this goal?

I believe my work in video games has influenced my writing style to some degree, though I think simply growing up immersed in a culture of video games and action movies also had a strong effect. For better or worse, my style is very kinetic – things happen quickly, settings change often and the plot is constantly moving forward. I’m not a patient reader, so I’m not a patient writer: I want to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible. It’s not a conscious decision on my part, though. I just write the story in the way I’d want to read it, and that means focusing on keeping the reader engaged with drama, conflict and action.

The world of Children of Fire seems to be morally ambiguous. As a culture, we seem to have drifted away from simpler ideas of “good guys vs. bad guys”. Why is that? Why did you choose to pursue this direction?

I think there’s more value and interest in characters that don’t fit the classic hero/villain archetypes. A flawless, pure, noble hero can be kind of boring, and it’s impossible for most of us average folks to relate to. Similarly, a purely evil villain comes across as cartoonish. I want to be able to understand and accept the motivations of the bad guy; even if I don’t agree with them, I want to see how his or her actions could seem reasonable from that point of view.

Speaking of classic, Children of Fire seems to draws at least some influence from classic mythology and religion. In particular, I”m thinking of the Slayer, who seems to be analogous with figures like Set or Satan. I also noted that the main characters are born under a fateful astronomical sign, which is another classic piece of folklore and myth. Were you consciously attempting to invoke these ideas? What inspired you?

I like to take well established archetypes in my stories and then put little twists and turns on them that change reader expectations as the story develops. By using these classic inspirations, the audience can get a quick understanding of what a character represents: oh, that’s the wizard/mentor figure; there’s the antagonist. But then I like to layer on bits of detail that distinguish my creations from the existing standards: hey, the kindly wizard mentor is actually an arrogant, ruthless, self-interested jerk! Wait, that demonic villain used to be the self-sacrificing defender of the mortal world! It’s something we did often with BioWare games, and it’s something I’ve done in all of my work – introduce something that seems familiar on the surface, then make it memorable and unique through the details.

On the same topic, the Danaan seem to be in the mold of elves. I’m assuming the name was inspired by the mythical Irish Tuatha de Danaan. I’m beginning to see a trend here. Drew Karpyshyn, are you a mythology geek?

Busted! Good catch on the Tuatha de Danaan; it’s also an inside nod to my wife’s heritage – she was born in N. Ireland. Growing up I was a huge fan of mythology, especially the Greek/Roman, Norse and Egyptian tales. While other kids created comic book crossovers (Wolverine meets Batman!) I used to want Loki, Horus and Ares to hang out. So now I draw on those influences in my own work. For those who recognize the references, it adds a little something extra to the novel, though you don’t have to be a mythology geek to enjoy the books.

What role does “Chaos” play in Children of Fire? I’m assuming that when the characters refer to Chaos that they’re not talking about the everyday disruption and disorder that we all encounter from day to day.

The trilogy is called The Chaos Born, and it refers to the primal energies from which the mortal world was formed by the Old Gods. Chaos is also the source of all magic in the book; any kind of spell or invocation has to call upon this ancient power. Of course, as the name implies, Chaos is dangerous and unpredictable, and unleashing it in the mortal world often brings about unforeseen consequences called “backlash”. If a wizard isn’t careful, the simplest spell can cause a chain reaction of seemingly unrelated events that have the exact opposite effect of what was intended.

This might be a stretch, but as I encountered your characters, I was reminded a little bit of the rogue/cleric/wizard/warrior axis you see in many games. Am I imagining this? Were you going for these archetypes?

I think this is more of a case of games drawing on the same cultural touchstones that I’m referencing in my novel. These are the kinds of roles society tends to use to group people into – religious leaders, those with technical or mystical wisdom, those with physical and mental strength and finally those who operate outside the societal norms. You can see a similar thing in what the Children of Fire represent in the book. Each embodies one of the four major aspects of Daemron the Slayer, the fallen demigod who once ruled the mortal world: wizard, warrior, prophet and King.

There’s two more novels to go in this series. Did you originally intend to write this as a three book series, or did the concept just grow too large for one book? What will can we look forward to in the next books?

I didn’t set out to write a trilogy, but as I was planning out the story it became very clear to me that it was too large for a single book. The first novel, Children of Fire, is mostly focused on the origins of the main characters: who they are and what events have shaped them into the characters they become. It’s about introducing the world I’ve created and bringing all the different storylines of each character together. The
second and third novels are more focused on the ever-growing impact of the Children of Fire as it spreads. The different political and religious factions introduced in the first book seek to control – or even destroy – the Children of Fire, and events quickly escalate until the entire mortal world is engulfed in the tale.