Today, I’m over-the-moon excited to be a part of the DARKHAVEN release party!!! Not only did I read and review (and absolutely LOVE) the book, I managed to score an interview with author A.F.E. Smith! In addition to the interview and review, we’ve also got a scavenger hunt and giveaway. AND, there’s a Facebook party you are invited to join where you can win tons of prizes. So, without further rambling from me, allow me to introduce A.F.E. Smith…
Hi, A.F.E. and welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi, Tricia, and thanks for having me! Hmm, a bit about me … well, I work as an academic editor during the day and a fantasy writer at night. Thus far I haven’t accidentally-on-purpose added a swordfight into a textbook about number theory, but I’m working on it. I’m also the mother of two children, who I refer to online as Small and Tiny, though they’re rapidly outgrowing those names. My favourite food is pasta, my favourite number is five and my favourite Beatle is George. And I’m sometimes a robin.
Please tell us about your new book, Darkhaven.
It’s a fantasy murder mystery. The main characters are a brother and sister, Myrren and Ayla Nightshade, who belong to a ruling family of shapeshifters. Their father is murdered, all the evidence points to Ayla being the culprit, and the book follows both of them as they work from different angles to try and figure out who really did it. Plus there are swords, pistols, lots of action, a bit of romance, a few plot twists here and there …
I just finished reading Darkhaven (check out my review below!) and it is phenomenal. Is there the possibility of a sequel in the future?
Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Yes, there is a sequel coming next year. Two, in fact. Book 2 is currently with the publisher and Book 3 is being written as we speak. Like Darkhaven, they are standalone stories, but some of the same characters will tie all the books together.
How in the world did you come up with the idea for the book?
It grew from the first scene – though at the time, my vague plot idea was a little different. I had one particular character in mind to be the villain, only it then occurred to me that the story would be much more interesting if that person wasn’t a villain at all. Sorry, I’m being a bit vague here to avoid spoilers (though since you’ve read it, you may be able to guess who I’m talking about!).
Overall, though, I think the core idea for this book was one of plot rather than of concept or setting or character. All those things are linked, but you have to have a seed to start them off – like the grit in the middle of a pearl (she says, blithely comparing her book to a pearl). In this case, the seed was very much a plot seed. The whole story hinges on the identity of the murderer, which I guess is typical for a murder mystery. Even a murder mystery hybrid.
Having said that, I think someone would enjoy the book even if they figured out the identity of the murderer straight away. The plot may have been the seed, but everything I write turns out to be about people more than anything – so it’s the relationships that matter, not the mystery.
I’m in awe of the intricate world you created. Where is Darkhaven and who is in charge?
Darkhaven itself is a tower at the heart of a capital city, Arkannen. The city is made up of seven concentric rings and Darkhaven is at the centre of the innermost. It is ruled by the Nightshade family, who have the hereditary ability to shift shape into certain powerful creatures – Firedrake, Unicorn and so on. Their country, Mirrorvale, is quite small and surrounded by larger neighbours, so one of its main protections is the existence of these fearsome and apparently indestructible creatures. As a result, the overlords of Darkhaven have become very focused on preserving the purity of their bloodline, and this causes problems for Myrren and Ayla in the book.
As overlord, Myrren faces challenges early on. How does his internal conflict affect his approach to dealing with these challenges?
Myrren is a perfectionist and a people-pleaser, which stems from the fact that he was born without the shapeshifter gift of his bloodline. He has spent his entire life since he came of age trying to make up for what his father perceives as a fatal deficiency. So although – being the older child and the only son – he’s been brought up as his father’s heir, he doesn’t have much confidence in that role. And his father’s declared intention to disinherit him in favour of Ayla doesn’t help much.
What that does to him, of course, is leave him in a very unstable position when his father dies unexpectedly. He becomes overlord in name, but not in spirit. And so his battle is as much with himself as it is with any external obstacles he has to face.
Really, I see Myrren as being the perfect example of the devastating effect that parents can have on their children when they try to force them to be something other than who they are.
Ayla is another complicated character. What are her flaws and how do they make things worse for her?
Ayla is impetuous and argumentative, though I’m not sure she’d see those as flaws. She is far more outspoken than her brother; he tends to give in to their father, whereas she will always fight back. But she’s become so used to fighting that she doesn’t always recognise when someone is on her side. Nor is she very good at recognising the times when diplomacy would actually be a better approach. She digs in her heels and refuses to budge, and that stubbornness can exacerbate a situation.
I think she also comes across as judgemental and unfriendly, sometimes, but those flaws aren’t part of her true character. They’re part of the defences she put up after her mother’s death. Over the course of the book she begins to soften a bit and let her better nature creep back through.
Which character was easier to write? Who was the most challenging?
The easiest was probably Tomas Caraway, my failed Helmsman (bodyguard to the royal family) – because if I’m allowed to have a favourite character, he’s probably the one. There’s just something satisfying about writing the kind of personal redemption arc he goes through.
The hardest … Owen Travers, Captain of the Helm, who is in pursuit of Ayla to lock her up for her father’s murder. He does some awful things, but he’s not capital-e Evil. Very few people are. So although I don’t want readers to like him, I do want them to understand him a bit. It was rather like arguing passionately for a position I don’t believe in.
What projects are you currently working on?
The two books that follow Darkhaven come first for now, but I also have various other projects on the go. They include a more epic-style fantasy series, as well as a young adult series set in this world. Of course these other series have had to take a back seat while I focus on the Darkhaven books, but I hope to return to them before too long.
Where can readers go to find out more about Darkhaven?
I have a page about Darkhaven (the book) and a page about Arkannen (the setting) on my website. The latter includes the outline sketch of a map, which might be useful and/or fun if you like that kind of thing. There’s also a page for the Darkhaven blog tour.
And finally, if you’re interested in buying a copy of the book for the truly awesome price of $3.99/£1.99, here are a variety of links to choose from:
Book title: DARKHAVEN
Author: A.F.E. Smith
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release date: 2 July 2015 (ebook), 14 January 2016 (paperback)
Price: £1.99/$3.99 (ebook)
Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.
When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?
Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.
My Review: When Ayla escapes captivity, she finds herself in greater danger than she ever imagined possible. She can’t return to Darkhaven – not without facing punishment for a crime she didn’t commit. Myrren, desperate to investigate his father’s murder and clear his sister’s name, finds more questions than answers. Ayla teams up with the person she swore she’d never forgive, while Myrren has to determine who he can and cannot trust as he endeavors to investigate a string of attacks. When the mystery is solved, the implications are shocking and one thing is certain- Ayla’s and Myrren’s lives will never be the same.
Amazing. That’s the only word I can think of to describe this book. From the moment I began reading, I couldn’t put it down and ended up reading the last half of the book in one sitting. Yes, it’s that good! This book has everything – fantasy, sword battles, mythical creatures, shapeshifting, and more. All these elements are blended together perfectly in the world Smith has created. When you add in the cast of well-written, believable, likable (and not-so-likable) characters, you’ve got the perfect combination, at least in my opinion. I’m a sucker for complicated, multifaceted characters, and that’s what I’ve found in this book.
I would recommend this book to just about everyone. There’s so much that sets this book apart and makes it wonderfully unique. You won’t find better world-building and you won’t find better characters. I can’t wait to read more from this author!
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Want to follow the tour?
Check out the Tour homepage: www.afesmith.com/darkhaven-blog-tour