Here we have a first for The Big Idea: Our first translated essay. Alexey Pehov writes in Russian, and in Russian, he’s done very well, winning awards and racking up sales over the last decade with his Chronicles of Siala series and other novels. Now his debut novel Shadow Prowler, the first of the Chronicles of Siala, has come to the English language (translated by Andrew Bromfield, who translated Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series), and Pehov wants to tell you about it — and how his desire to play with the form of fairytales propelled him out of the ordinary life of an orthodontist (no, really) and into an extraordinary life as a fantasy writer.
People often asked me this question: You are a qualified doctor; you enjoy a great profession and a promising career; so why did you start writing? What was the catalyst for venturing into the creative world?
The desire to write this book didn’t begin right away. It was a long and roundabout process with ideas percolating in my mind for many years before finally forming themselves onto paper.
When I was seven years old, I realized that when a cartoon show or a book ended—that it was not the “end” at all. Because of one’s imagination, the story could continue or one could make up an entire new story. No need to depend on television, books or computer games anymore!
A person could close his or her eyes and imagine any situation and any characters with their own set of magic system and relationships… and that imaginary world could even live on in one’s dreams: Diving to the depths of the warm sea, climbing towards a snowy peak or watching the setting of two suns.
My dream to create new worlds as a writer, however, could only be realized after graduation, as studying took up all of my time.
Despite coming to writing later in life, how lucky was I to discover the best form of escapism—turning back the clock to childhood and returning to the world of fairytales. What kid doesn’t like magic and adventure?
Some people say that life consists of a series of coincidences and complex decisions. And when we make complex decision, we only choose one side of a complicated issue.
Unlike real life, fairytales often involve clear-cut extremes: good and evil, ugly and beautiful, rich and poor. With my own stories, I like to include the grey area in between. A story without nuances is like food without salt or pepper. You can eat it, but it can taste rather bland.
I had always wanted to transform the world depicted in fairytales into a more controversial—or even contradictory—one. A world where the heroes and the enemies are not immediately apparent, where characters sometimes break out of their fairytale archetypes. A world not unlike our own real world.
Therefore, readers may be surprised by some of the developments in Shadow Prowler, or even find some of its occurrences odd from the standpoint of classic fantasy.
So why did this Russian doctor choose to write stories of a fantastical bent? Fantasy, for me, has always appeared as a bright, sparkling bird for which no limit in distance, altitude or speed exists. Fantasy has no boundaries.
Traveling is one of my hobbies, and in the past years, I had trekked to Mount Everest, biked the Sahara, navigated the Ecuadorian jungles and visited remote islands. Everywhere I went, I met such unique and exciting people—and any one of them could have been the hero for someone’s book.
So for my main character in Shadow Prowler, I chose to give him an ambiguous profession. At first glance, thievery and heroism may not be very compatible concepts, but this decision wound up working quite well. And as we know, in an adventure tale, stranger things have happened.
So welcome to the world of Siala! A story taken from the black-and-white pages of folk and fairy tales, so to speak, but infused with the multicolor complication of nontraditional heroes and battles. I hope you enjoy it.