Today I’m interviewing TA Frost about his forthcoming dark fantasy novel Up To The Throne, which came out on the 18th December.
Q: First things first: is it a stand-alone novel, or the first part in a series?
A: Up To The Throne is a stand-alone novel, but there will be two sequels, which will involve the same characters in further adventures. They'll also introduce the setting: I've got plans for a much longer set of related novels, but that's a very long-term objective at the moment.
Q: What’s the premise of Up To The Throne?
A: Several years ago, a petty criminal was left to die when a crime lord wiped out the stable of thieves of which she was a part. She was little more than a witness to be silenced - but she survived, and has returned to her home city to take her revenge. However, things have changed since she fled, and the man who ordered her death is now a respected member of society, whose killing will leave the city vulnerable to some very bad people indeed. Giulia, our heroine, must decide whether to take her revenge, even if doing so may bring the city down.
Q: Up To The Throne’s protagonist is Giulia Degarno. What can you tell us about her? What’s her background and aspirations?
A: Giulia is something of a renegade: once a pickpocket, she now fits into that grey area between enforcing the law and breaking it - and has considerable experience concerning theft. She's bitter and vengeful, but also intelligent, loyal and very skilled - not the best person in her world, but not the worst by a very long way. A useful person to know, and a bad one to cross!
Q: The blurb describes the story as taking place in a Renaissance city. Is it historical fiction, or a Renaissance-style city in a mythical world?
A: The setting of Up To The Throne is to the Renaissance what a lot of classic fantasy is to Medieval Europe: a magical, slightly condensed version of the present. Giulia's world has a lot of parallels with our own, but with one main difference: magic. Magic not just in terms of wizardry, but in enchantments that enable all sorts of bizarre contraptions to work, and in the magical creatures who occupy a perilous but important position in society.
Q: Again going by the blurb, it sounds strongly Italian (and perhaps Roman) influenced: what sort of technology is used? Do we have gunpowder, or are crossbows de rigueur? Is magic present in this world and, if so, how does it work?
A: We do have gunpowder, although (as with the real world back then) it's imperfect, expensive and not very reliable. There is magic, but this is a fairly low-magic setting, in that there are not many wizards who can throw fireballs around (probably fortunately, what with the gunpowder!). Magic is more often encountered in subtle forms, such as alchemy and enchantments. Timber soaked in the right alchemical reagents, for instance, is ideal for making flying machines...
Q: Recent years have seen some cracking grimdark books released, although the squeamish find them a bit much. How much sex and violence can we expect to enjoy in your new dark fantasy book?
A: The sex and violence is really hard to answer. It's not actually incredibly graphic, but there definitely is some violence. More interesting to me is a sense of murkiness and danger, like a film noir. One of my big non-SFF influences is Raymond Chandler, and while his books aren't wall-to-wall gore, there's a real feeling of corruption, intrigue and menace. So I don't mind if people want to describe Up To The Throne as grimdark, but I don't think it revels in carnage. Maybe a 15 rather than 18 rating?
Q: What sources, whether historical or fictional, helped inspire the setting and/or characters? Are there hints of Machiavelli and Borgia?
A: There were loads of inspirations! Definitely history, and the Borgias, Medicis and so on would certainly feature highly. You can find some fascinating bits and pieces in history that help you go beyond the stereotypes. Also, I looked at a lot of paintings from that time, which help to focus my mind on the setting. But I was also influenced by crime novels and other fantasy: the inspiration for Giulia came from a picture in an old D&D manual!
Q: Obviously, people know you (as Toby Frost) from writing the adventures of Space Captain Smith. Although you’ve written several entries in that sci-fi comedy series, this is your first foray into both ‘serious’ fantasy and self-publishing. What different challenges have those two things presented?
A: Writing fantasy and books without jokes doesn't feel like that much of a worry - in a way, it's quite nice not to have to be funny. There's the same sense of building a world that I've had with the Smith books, and populating it with interesting stories and strange people. Self-publishing is a bit scary, though: there's this real fear that, after all the hard work, your book just vanishes into the ether. And, of course, you've not got the support network that you usually have. So it's quite daunting, to be honest! In a way I'm seeing it as an experiment, but Up To The Throne is a story I've wanted to tell for a long time, and it's good to be able to tell it.
Q: After Up To The Throne is released, what are you immediate plans for writing and publishing? More dark fantasy, a return to comedy, or a bit of both?
A: As for what happens next, there's loads of ways it could go. I'd like to return to Space Captain Smith's world, perhaps to write something at a bit of a tangent. But I've also got plans for more fantasy, and I'm working on a sequel to Up To The Throne right now. So there's a lot of potential - the difficult bit is in making it work!
Thanks to TA Frost for the interview, and if you want to buy the book or learn more, check out these links: