By Neal F. Litherland
When most people think of fantasy, they tend to think of Tolkien. Elves, dwarves, orcs, and goblins, all of them crammed into a couple square miles of English countryside. Sometimes they work together, sometimes they’re at odds, but this is the well that so many of our modern stories draw from. It’s why so many fantasy writers clock huge amounts of world building time, and it’s one reason that a trilogy is considered the ideal form a book series should take.
Even though I’m a lifelong lover of fantasy, though, I have a confession to make; I’ve never read a single page of Tolkien. In fact, I had never even heard his name until I was in high school. Even then, I had no context for it; he was cited as the inspiration an artist for Magic: The Gathering had drawn on for his Lord of The Pit painting. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-to-late teens when the Lord of the Rings films started coming out that I finally got an idea of what all the fuss was about.
The thing was, high fantasy wasn’t what I grew up reading; the books on my shelves came from an earlier era. A time when genre lines weren’t so clearly drawn, and when you could mix in whatever elements you felt like. A time when iron-thewed barbarians and musket-wielding witch hunters would share the page with ancient warriors fighting colossal, tentacled horrors from beyond time and space.
In short, I grew up reading pulp fiction. The messy, gonzo, and often problematic, precursors to the high fantasy that Tolkien and his imitators are often considered to have ushered in.
I’ve enjoyed a lot of high fantasy fiction, particularly some of the modern fantasy genre that draws on these well-worn races, tropes, and ideas. And as I’ve grown, I’ve become painfully aware of how problematic a lot of fiction from the pulp era can be, from how it depicts women and minority characters (when they’re even part of the story), to how a lot of it just… well, it wasn’t very good then, and it hasn’t aged well. But there was still something vibrant in it. Something chaotic, where the unexpected could lurk round every page. There was no formula to deviate from, and that made what rose to the top particularly engaging.
So when I wrote a fantasy novel, that was the feeling I was going for.
Modern Twists on an Old Style
When I sat down to write my first fantasy novel, I wanted to bring readers to a place many of them had never been. A land that was vibrant with strangeness and mystery, where the touch of man lay lightly on the land. A place with buried and forgotten empires, where the veins of magic pulsed just beneath the surface for those who could feel it. A place where a witch-bred clan lived on a haunted mountain, and where their strange talents would give readers a window into the world.
What came out was Crier’s Knife. A story about a young man set to bring his far-wandering cousin back home, and to pull him out of the strange trouble he’s gotten himself into. And along the way he has to contend with a clan of killers, a town living in fear, and a cult leader with a stranglehold on a once peaceful people as she digs deep into the earth for something better left forgotten.
The world of the Criers is one of flashing steel, old magics, and strange ways. A world that feels young, but is built atop the bones of those who came before. A place where gods still slumber, and where blood runs thick and dark. It is, in many ways, trying to write a new chapter in the sagas of the old stories. One that has all of pulp’s strange mystique and bizarre charms, but which has shed so much of what makes those old stories so hard to love these days.