The Big Idea: Alexey Pehov

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.


Shadow Prowler: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt of the novel. See the book trailer.

22 Comments on “The Big Idea: Alexey Pehov”

  1. Does look interesting, but I have a general question I’ll just throw out there, not specific to Pehov: Isn’t it time editors got together and declared a one-year (or longer) moratorium on publishing any fantasy novel with the word “SHADOW” in the title? This honestly has to be the genre’s biggest cliché going at the moment, methinks.

  2. Just wanted to say I really love your Big Ideas series. I have read many great books profiled here and have been turned on to a lot of authors I would not have heard of otherwise..

  3. This book is now on order at my local library. :) I’ve put a copy on hold – hopefully the fact that I’m not the first one will encourage them to buy more copies!

    (also, the Big Idea might start me buying more books outright – so many of them, my library isn’t ordering. Though I will also be sending them a list of books I’d like them to order… :)

  4. Hmmmm I was about to say “Another fantasy series??” but I like the idea of making things less clear cut and more nuanced. Sigh… another one for the reading stack… :)

  5. I wonder how this compares to George R.R. Martin’s superb “A Song of Ice and Fire Series,” which explores similar themes of real-world moral ambiguity in a fantasy setting.

  6. I also really like the cover and wonder who did it? I don’t usually pick up a book just because of its cover, but in this case (even without the interesting write up), I think I will. Thanks.

  7. I don’t have anything against this, but it does stand out among Big Idea pieces in that it’s not structured like the others. If we try to extract a Big Idea, it seems to be the popular-these-days introduction of moral ambiguity. I know almost nothing about the story having read this.

  8. Here is what Chris Claremont thinks of the book. I got this off of Amazon.

    “An exciting take on classical themes as a professional thief finds himself reluctantly cast into the role of a hero to save his homeland from destruction. The story is engrossing, the characters intriguing and dynamic; there are mysteries galore and the very real sense as we set out that far creepier things are waiting down the road. In short, a book I didn’t want to put down and want to see what comes next.”
    –Chris Claremont, bestselling writer of the X-Men and Wolverine

  9. I’m a newcomer here and loving the Big Idea posts (this looks fascinating, I definitely want to check it out), but just want to add – is a good website too, free shipping over $25, and they’re struggling lately. You mentioned in one of the MacMillan posts that you like them, their buyers do well by you – they could use a link at the bottom too …
    (Yes, I work there, but just part-time. It just makes me sad to see how they never turn up in links when I’m browsing.)

  10. I got this off Tor:
    “Toothy, gritty, and relentless. Alexey Pehov sneaks up on you and fascinates with the wry voice of a young Moorcock. Clear space on your shelf–you’ll want the whole series.”
    –E.E. Knight, bestselling author of the Vampire Earth series

    “Shadow Prowler is a fresh, exuberant take on territory that will be familiar to all fans of classic high fantasy. Alexey Pehov introduces a cast of charming, quirky, unsavory, even loathesome characters in a fast-paced, entertaining adventure.”
    –Kevin J. Anderson, co-author of the bestselling Dune books

  11. The book is really awesome! I’ve read the whole series in Russian and now I want to re-read it in English just to prolong my enjoyment;))
    Very attractive and inriguing character, interesting world described so perfectly that you can see it as if you were there and exciting adventures – just what I like;) Looking forward to getting my copy of the “Shadow Prowler”:)

  12. I have read almost all his books. He is a great writer and The Chronicles of Siala is definitely the best. I strongly recommend to read it. I’ve read it in Russian and hope the translator managed to describe all its perfection.

  13. Alexey is one of the best fantasy authors I’ve ever read. His worlds are real, detailed to every tiny bit. I read all his books in Russian, it’d be interesting to get to know this one.

  14. Im really happy to hear that this gorgeous books were translated,so english speaking readers can also enjoy works of this person. I’ve read almost all of his books,and all I can say he’s one of my favourite writers.His worlds,characters,descriptions are amazing,his writing style is light,and books are really easy to read,though dunno how it will be with translation. While reading you can imagine everything, but I’ve read some books of some authors that are just flat..You try try,but you can’t feel urself there, can’t feel action.But in his books you can. That’s why I really suggest everybody to try and read them)
    and Im totally agree with mr. Thomas M. Wagner about word “shadow” in titles,but in this case this world is
    reasonable,you’ll uderstand it while reading.

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