Fantasy/Sci-Fi Focus: Your first box set has been released by Fallbrandt Press. How do you feel about that?
JMD Reid: I was super nervous. I had to hand over my files to let my books be formatted in strange, new ways. It’s out of my control. It’s scary. But the ebook looks great. so that’s a big relief. I’m hopeful that it works out. I’m excited that it’ll be great.
FSF: Now this series focuses on Obhin and Avena. Tell new readers a bit about them as characters, why they’ll want to route for them , and a bit about the journey they’ll go on together throughout the series.
JR: At the start of the series, Ōbhin is a broken man. He’s full of depression for a crime he committed a few years ago. He finds himself in a band of bandits, uncaring about what he does. Carstin, another bandit, is the only one that reaches out to him, trying to pull him out of his depression. At the start of the story, the bandits attack Avena and her surrogate father, a philosopher named Dualayn, to capture them. Carstin’s mortal wounding shakes Ōbhin out of his depression as he fights with Avena to save his friend’s life.
Avena is a young woman. Technically a maid to Dualayn, she has become more like his daughter and research assistant as he delves into the secrets of the past. Full of her own guilt from a tragedy in her childhood, she is looking to keep others from suffering. So even though Carstin is a bandit who attacked her and her father, and though they’ve been captured, she won’t let him die.
Fighting to save Carstin’s life starts Ōbhin and Avena down a path that will give them both a chance to find the redemption they seek.
In the City of Kash, political unrest, poverty, industrial revolution, criminal syndicates, and more put pressure on the city and make the setting for Ōbhin and Avena’s story. Based on Victorian London, Kash is a large city, polluted, over-populated, and going through social upheaval as the agrarian society transitions to an industrial one thanks to the jewel machine revolution. Magical jewels are being used to drive new discoveries, from healing gems, artificial lights, and heavy machinery.
FSF: And this is going to inevitably be a massive year for you, with not only one but two brand new, never before published series being released after this one, and that’s only in year one with Fallbrandt, talk a bit about Mask of Illumination and Assassin of Illumination and why readers will need to read all three series.
JR: Mask of Illumination is a stand-alone series that takes place in the same world as Jewels of Illumination. It follows Foonauri, who is the ex-lover of Ōbhin from Jewels of Illumination. The mistake that he made in his past involved referenced throughout the first series involves her.
Foonauri, a young noblewoman, has spent her life being raised with the idea that her goal should be to marry the richest and most powerful man possible. Now, exiled in a foreign land and tired of being the mistress to the rich and powerful, she finds herself wanting to do something with her life.
An enigmatic man named Onyx asks her to join the thieving group known as the Cracked Gems, who unlike other thieves, only stea from those who have wronged others.
Mask of Illumination is about a young woman wanting to figure out who she is and what she truly wants.
Now Assassins of Illumination is a sequel mainly to Jewels of Illumination, following the aftermath of that series’ exciting ending. But it also follows one of the characters from Mask of Illumination as she journeys to find her own redemption. The assassin is referred to as “No One”, a shape-changing villain from Jewels of Illumination.
Enslaved to the bad guys, at the end of Jewels, he finds himself free to become himself again. But who is No One? Every person he has every killed is inside of him. He steals their identities and can become them. Now, he’s not sure who he really is. The series deals with the stresses of fighting for himself along with another assassin hunting him down to get revenge for one of the people he had killed. At the same time, another crime syndicate wants to use him for their own purpose.
Once more, Kash is the setting for characters searching for who they are.
FSF: This sounds amazing. Your prose is always astounding, and the books often feel more like higher literature than a lot of the quick digestible Fantasy out there. What authors have become your gold standard as a writer? The authors that blow your mind and make you say “How the hell did they do that?”
JR: Robert Jordan started me on this path of being more character focused, and Brandon Sanderson has grand plots and great characters that I always find great to read. R. Scott Bakker is an author that got me thinking more about the darker aspects of humanity. The shadow self. The flaws all humans have. While I don’t go nearly as dark (he is firmly entrenched in grimdark), I still find his insight into psychology to be a good place to start.
FSF: What themes do you enjoy addressing in your work? How much of what your write, is steeped in allusions to the real world?
JR: It tends to be about dealing with the guilt of the mistakes we made yesterday and that we can better tomorrow. We can always choose to be the worst of ourselves or the best of ourselves.
There is some political stuff because the books are engrossed in politics. We have countries making the transition from monarchies to democracies. The arguments for and against democracy versus autocracy. I try to give all the characters their own views that feel realistic and have their reasons for it. It’s not any one-to-one critique of anything in the real world. More drawing inspiration to it.
I will say, I was writing riots for Mask of Illumination during the worst of the riots in the US that definitely colored my views on the limitations and dangers of the mobs. How protests that can be for good reason can spiral into tragedy.
FSF: Your books are always steeped in realistic dialogue, and the characters are always so believable, often with shades of gray, and you handle the romantic elements of the stories very well. Do you base your characters on yourself, and those around you, or is this simply about having a great imagination?
JR: I pull them from a lot of different sources. From observing people, from my own life, from other fiction. Then I just try and think how the character would act that would be realistic. I try to stay true to their characters.
FSF: Looking backward a bit, you also have begun releasing your “Storm Below” epic fantasy series as audio books. Talk a bit about how you found the amazing Zachary Johnson, and what it feels like to listen to such a great voice actor read your work?
JR: He found me. He contacted me and sent me a demo of Above the Storm. I had been wanting to make Audiobooks, but i just hadn’t had the time to pursue it. But he had a really great voice and was really excited to bring my book to life. So I took a shot, and Book 3 is almost all finished and Book 4 and Book 5 will be coming out over 2021.
FSF: I’m particularly stoked about what seems like a hugely ambitious project you’ve had in the works for a while. Tell us a bit about Shadow of The Dragon.
JR: Shadow of the Dragon is an epic quest fantasy series. Unique races, strange locations, a conspiracy to destroy the war, mysterious happenings, and a young man just wanting to be a hero to the girl next door.
The story’s central idea, started with what if there was a boy who liked a girl. And the girl’s father was an evil wizard who abused her. What happens when the boy kills that evil wizard to save the girl’s life?
That is the essence of Shadow of the Dragon.
Euddán is the son of the village healer. He’s young, headstrong, cocky in that way a teenage boy can be who thinks he’s invincible. He just wants to protect his mother and his friend, Vounée.
Vounée is the village pariah. Her father, said dark wizard, built his tower on the outskirts of the village in a cursed valley. They are all afraid of him so none of them see the pain she’s in. None but Euddán.
When her father is performing a ritual to put a soul of a long-dead dragon into Vounée’s body as part of a darker cabal’s plans to “save” the world, Euddán can’t sit by. He intervenes, not knowing he has just disrupted the plans of a global conspiracy and though he saved Vounée from her father, she now has a dragon’s soul in her wanting to take over her life and a deadly warrior-mage hunting them down.
Thus starts their quest to free Vounée from the Shadow of the Dragon and stop the Apostasy’s dark plans.
They’ll be joined by Thaaph and Dhaua, a pair of shrubmen, living plants, a glowing fox named Lumi, and Zai, a flighty seeress who has no fear because she’s already seen if she’ll break her neck or not jumping off a roof.
FSF: You’ve also worked on The Cider & Ale Chronicles with Michael Evan which will have a box set release in March, and you’ve recently begun collaborating again on Max & The Captain. Have you noticed a difference in writing the new series. What have you preferred?/found more challenging?
JR: While the settings are very similar, the heart of both series are very similar. When writing both, I get to use the dumb questions and random segues my brain produces that i normally would ignore. But the fun of this series it that I can write this crazy and absurd stuff, but it works because that’s the charm of it. It’s like a Bollywood movie. Insane and fun, full of heart and joy!
FSF: You’re going to hit 100 episodes of your Authors in Focus podcast quite soon. There are so many author interview podcasts. What do you like to bring to yours that’s different and that you hope comes through for your interviewees.
JR: I just like to have conversations. I don’t come in with a large list of questions. Just a few fun ones to start out, a few generic ones to get conversations going, and some notes on their books. I never know where it will go or what we’ll end up talking about. That’s the fun of it.
FSF: So here’s one question off the writing path…if you could do one thing to make the world a better place what would it be?
JR: I am. I’m writing stories that help to entertain people and give an outlet for them when times are stressful. The last year, I’ve heard from many readers who were thankful to have something to distract them from 2020.
FSF: Well thanks James. Best of luck in this huge year!
JR: Have a good one! Thanks for taking the time!