An Introduction from Brian:
Most stories work very hard to provide a beginning, a middle, and an end. Characters have arcs. Mysteries are resolved. Plots conclude. When we put down a novel, or the final novel in a series, we usually have a sense of completion, the satisfaction of some great machine having finished its work and come inevitably to rest.
Of course, it’s all sleight of hand, all illusion. A writer chooses when to open a story and when to close it, but nothing is ever really finished. That couple that finally kisses in the end? Well, something happens after that kiss, something the reader never gets to see, a lot of somethings, in fact, a series of days and months, maybe some great sex, maybe some lousy sex, illness, ten thousand meals, a delightful boating excursion, a miserable boating excursion, mosquito bites, an affair, bad dreams, overcooked rice, perfectly prepared tea, death. I mean, inevitably, death, but even that’s not the end, because these people will have come into contact with other people, people who survive them, who go on with their own lives, and the whole great, baffling tree of humanity and stories ramifies out and out and out.
This is true of any story, but especially true of a big, honking epic fantasy that involves scores and scores of characters. When these characters walk offstage, their lives don’t just stop. Even if the writer hasn’t yet imagined the rest of that character’s life, the potential is there, a seed, a boulder perched at cliff’s top, just waiting for the shove.
When I started work on this new trilogy—the first book is The Empire’s Ruin—I knew that I wanted to include some of the central characters from the original trilogy, but I also knew that I wanted to return to some of the tertiary characters, people who appeared for only a few chapters and whose tales the books weren’t able to follow.
One of these was Akiil.
If Akiil has a last name, he doesn’t know it. His parents died or disappeared when he was very young, leaving him to shift for himself in the slums of Annur. Even though he plays a smallish role in the The Emperor’s Blades, he was always a difficult, twisty character to write, an orphan and a thief who finds himself shipped off to the Bone Mountains to study with the Shin monks. After years of this monastic discipline, he’s a study in contradictions; all the raw trauma of his childhood is still there, the feral impulses, the emotional armor, but there’s a new side to him, one in which he’s learned, at least partly, to put away his feelings, to step outside of them, to become still and calm. The intersection of these traits always interested me. They made him unique among the monks. I always knew that he survived the slaughter at Ashk’lan.
If you haven’t read The Emperor’s Blades, don’t listen to this yet! It’s filled with spoilers for that first book. If you have, carry on!
This story, The Last Abbott of Ashk’lan, is the story of Akiil’s survival, about survival in general, actually, about compromises and the weighing and paying of prices. It’s also a reintroduction to a character I love, one who plays a crucial role in The Empire’s Ruin. I’m so excited about Oliver Cudbill’s recording. His performance captures the complexity and ambivalence of Akiil’s voice just perfectly. I hope you enjoy it, and that it whets your appetite for the novel, which picks up later, when Akiil had returned to the city of his birth determined to use his monastic skills and the older, darker arts of his childhood in order to pull off the biggest swindle of his life.