STARBURST: Tell us about Nevernight…
Jay Kristoff: It’s the first in a trilogy. It’s an epic fantasy series set in a world with three suns. With the suns being what they are, it’s never actually night time, hence the name of the book. The only gets darkness once every three or so years. I had an astrophysicist buddy of mine design a trinary star system that holds true. The story centres around a girl called Mia, who is the daughter of a failed revolutionary. She seeks training at a school of assassins to avenge herself against her father’s killers.
The Lotus War was steampunk mash-up, set in a world inspired by a feudal Japan. The technology was based on a fuel source that was a little like fossil fuels in our own world. So they had blimps and chainsaw katanas and samurai power armour and what-not. This setting, Nevernight, is a little more traditional Euro-centric medieval fantasy. It’s kind of a cross between ancient Rome and Merchant Prince Venice. The city at the heart of the novel is called God’s Grave, an analogue of Venice. It’s a got a series of islands, burst with canals. At the heart of it are The Ribs, big towers of ossified bone. Through the name of the city you can surmise that it’s built around the grave of a god by no one is quite sure of the origins of the myth anymore, it happened so far back in history.
Why are Australian fantasy writers always killing gods?
I don’t know. In Nevernight, things are muddied and lost in the depths of time. People don’t quite know why things are the way they are. There are legends about why there is no night, and why the sun dominates the sky. The God of Light and the suns in the sky are his eyes, constantly looking out at people. He’s supposed to be a protector god, but the flipside of that is you get constant climate effects and you don’t get to sleep because you don’t know when it’s night time. You get enormous storms blowing off the sea every 24 hours, which is the only way life would be possible on a world bathed in sunlight. The idea that this god is beneficent is constantly questioned. How this world came to be and how night became banished is part of the overall meta-plot of the novel.
The idea of God’s Grave came to me first and then I built the world around it. I don’t think I have any problem with the gods that live in my head.
You’re better known for the Young Adult series, Illuminae. How does this contrast?
Well, Illuminae is science fiction, this is a fantasy novel. Nevernight has more violence and a little bit more sex. It’s aimed at the more mature end of the spectrum. Younger readers can get into it, the main protagonist is a sixteen-year-old girl, so we’ll get a cross-over in readership. It’s a little darker in tone, a little bit more serious. It’s about a school for assassins, so expect some violence and mayhem along the way.
What can you tell us about the Illuminae movie?
They’re looking for screenwriters. The thing about signing an option for film is that you really do surrender all kind of control of your work over to people. Which is why it’s important you sign it over to people that you trust. Plan B is an amazing company that have done incredible films. They’re obviously excellent filmmakers. You also surrender being in on the loop. Screenwriting is a very different process to writing a novel, so you kind of have to take a step back and let things develop at their own pace.
Why are stories about assassins so popular?
As far as society’s fascination with assassins, I don’t know. It’s a question that I’ve thought about a lot. To me, the challenge as a writer was to make an assassin that the reader could still sympathise with. As far as a vocation goes, killing people solely for money is about an evil an act as you can commit. So trying to have someone who does that, whilst still being an interesting and compelling character was a real challenge for me. The book started with a scene in my head, I think it’s the end of Chapter Five, which is a conversation with Mia and Trick. From that conversation, I just wanted to find out more about the character. I think we have a fondness in our hearts for anti-heroes and Mia is definitely an anti-hero. She’s not on a quest to save the world, she’s driven by really quite selfish goals, she want to avenge herself against the people who wronged her. Finding out about those people and what their motives where and her realising her father wasn’t such a great guy is part of her journey. Exploring those themes, those motivations and exploring her selfishness was really fun.
We can’t really talk about fantasy assassins without mentioning Robin Hobb; how has she inspired your work?
She’s a massive influence. Assassin’s Apprentice is one of my favourite books of all time. I’ve still got my paperback copy that I bought back in 1997 pride of place on my bookshelf right now. Robin is an amazing writer, Fitz is an incredible character and I think the Farseer series is indelibly part of the epic fantasy landscape. I think anyone who writes a book about an assassin is going to be compared to Robin’s work. But she’s brilliant, if anyone tells me that they see similarities between The Farseer Trilogy and the Nevernight Chronicle, I’ll take that as a huge compliment. Robin is a huge influence on me and I think many other fantasy writers. It’s impossible to avoid comparisons. Same with Arya and Game of Thrones, such a compelling character. I welcome any comparisons.
NEVERNIGHT is released via Harper Voyager on August 11th.