The Big Idea: Stephen Deas
The world is a complicated place — even when the world is a fantasy world with dragons. Or, at least, it can be a complicated place even when there are dragons. Why? Because dragons can be complicated… and more to the point, people are always complicated, no matter where and when they are. At least Stephen Deas seems to think so, and in his high fantasy novel The Adamantine Palace (the first in a series), he mines those complications for drama and adventure, and yes, throws in a dragon or two to spice it all up. What comes of all this complication? Here’s the author himself to clear it up for you.
First, let me be clear about one thing. “The Memory of Flames” (of which The Adamantine Palace is the first part) is flash-bang fantasy. It’s written to be fast, furious and fun. Dragons! Intrigue! Murder! Sword-fights! That sort of thing. There’s a ton of reviews scattered around the internet that will tell you all about that side of things and I don’t intend to say any more. I will explain one piece of background, however, relevant to the Big Idea theme here.
The dragons in these books are monsters. They’re not cute, they’re not cuddly, and the only reason anyone gets to ride around on the back of them is because they are forcibly subdued by alchemical potions that are fed to them from birth. In fact, these dragons are so dangerous that for even one to break free could spell disaster for pretty much the entire civilisation (no prizes for guessing what happens pretty close to page one).
So you can, and probably should, read it as a straight epic fantasy with a cast of shady characters and a rampaging dragon that’s pretty ticked off about having been kept in a drugged stupor. I had no pretensions to anything more than a story about kick-ass dragons that ran on rocket-fuel when I set out to write these books; but sometimes when you sit down and write, you don’t get quite what you asked for.
Under its skin, “The Memory of Flames” started exploring questions about how we manage our monsters (and in this way, the dragons are a metaphor for whatever huge thing scares the hell out of you, whether it’s global warming, social welfare, lack of social welfare, nuclear weapons or fire-breathing monsters). The world I’ve written exists in an unstable equilibrium, held in place by layers of checks and balances and opposing forces. In that respect, I think the same is true of any complex civilisation (hey, if we all quit doing what we’re paid to do and just did whatever we fancied, eventually the machines would all pack in and stop working by themselves).
So what happens when someone gives the status quo a good hard kick? How do people react when their power is threatened? Or when it unexpectedly comes their way? What do people do when they realise something must be stopped AT ALL COSTS? How long will people live in denial of what is happening right in front of them because to acknowledge it would derail their own personal agenda?
In writing “The Memory of Flames,” these sorts of questions came up a lot. Control of information, too. The alchemists, whose duty it is to keep the dragons subdued, keep many things to themselves. Are they right to keep their secrets? What happens when some of these secrets get out? Certainly there are plenty of people who would use those secrets for their own ends; then again, what opportunities are lost because the right person in the right place at the right time didn’t have the first clue what was going on? Every society has its monsters in some form or another and has ways to keep them in check. Are they the right ones? “The Memory of Flames” doesn’t offer any answers to that. Just asks a lot of questions and shows a lot of ways it can go horribly wrong.
Like I said at the start, this is under the skin. I don’t want to by preachy (hate to be preached at) and the story always comes first. Fast and furious and a shit-load of fun, like I said. Take it or leave it, you choose. But I don’t see why the two can’t go hand in hand. Science Fiction has been doing it since the genre was invented (you might even argue that’s its raison d’etre). So I see no reason why epic fantasy can’t do the same thing every bit as well.
The worlds and the sceneries may change, but humans and their problems remain the same wherever they are.