SC Gowland Interview


 Coven of Shadows | Interview with SC Gowland

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Book Review

Good Evening everyone. Today, we have a little bit of a special post. Besides a book review, I am pleased to welcome Steve Gowland to the blog for an interview about his new book, Coven of Shadows,

So, before we get on to the book review, here is the interview with Steve Gowland



Hi Steve! Thanks for doing this interview. First things first, welcome to fantasybooknerd.com and congratulations on the release of the new book Coven of Shadows. How long has it been out now?

Thank you for the interview.

Coven of Shadows came out on the 14th April 2021, so not too long.


Tell us a bit of your journey as an author. I mean The Dark Crown is the first in this particular story, and I assume that you didn't just wake up and decide 'I know, this morning, I will write a book'. Where did you start? Have you been writing long?

I've had the idea for the world and the basic storyline in my head for about 25 years but, as with most things, life got in the way, so it is only really over the past few years - when I've become more involved with the fantasy writing community and read new books by Mike Shackle and Joe Abercrombie - that I really thought it's now or never. I was also asked the question “Do you want to be part of the 99% of people who want to write a book or the 1% who do?” I decided on the latter.

Once I started writing, I was on a roll and within a year I’d written the first drafts of books 1 & 2, but because I’d changed direction a lot in book 2 I had to give myself time to consider how book 3 would pan out and how I could pull all the strands together in a way that would satisfy readers.

I entered SPFBO6 in 2020 and that changed my entire plan; the rush sourcing a front cover and getting it into the competition pushed everything to one side. Suffice to say that I learnt an awful lot during that period – blurbs, front covers, etc. It’s all a learning experience for indie authors, but the writing community is incredibly generous, and help is around if you need it.

I finished book 2 later than I planned and am on book 3 (Darkness Falls) with a strict deadline. It will need a lot of work because the story has changed as I rewrote so much of Coven of Shadows. The main thing is that I am really proud of Coven of Shadows; it has heart, drama and depth, and it is the type of fantasy book I want to read – something that grabs both your head and heart.

So, Coven of Shadows is the second book in the Soul's Abyss, for those that don't know the series, I'm going to ask you give us a quick run down of the first book. However (little bit of a challenge here!) you have to pitch it to us in the length of a single tweet.

A land in turmoil.
An unknown enemy.
A family torn apart.

Kaoldan carries the weight of the world, an estranged father reunited with his daughters. His dark past haunts him - the dead are not always gone - as he fights to find the truth and return peace to the world.

So, this next question nicely segues in from that last question. Where are we with Coven of Shadows? What's happening in this second instalment?

Coven of Shadows continues immediately where The Dark Crown finished.

At the end of The Dark Crown everyone has been rattled - affected in some way by what they have seen or experienced – Coven of Shadows is about the fall out of these revelations and how our heroes deal with it, or not.

Kaoldan’s faith in himself and his family/friends is shattered. This is the greatest challenge of his life and things are only going to get harder. He faces hard choices and struggles to cope as more pressure is added by powers beyond his control.

His daughters – Romina and Zahara – are fighting their own battles, not only to find their place in the world amidst new surroundings, but to do the right thing. They face new enemies both internal and external. Other members of the Walker Order are facing their own trials and tests of faith after their discoveries in The Shattered City of Zuivosal.

Now revealed, the Otan begin their efforts to seek revenge and dominion over the world. We also find out more about them and their mysterious leader Rhazien – a man destined to rule the world. Unless someone can stop him. 

To really find out what happens you’ll have to buy the book.

One of the things that struck me in the First Book, was that whilst there is an epic scope to the story, you know, fate of the world and all that! At its heart, it had some very contained themes like family, loss, grief etc. Do these themes continue in Coven of Shadows?

Absolutely. All my favourite stories are about family and belonging – Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, the Marvel universe. A family are a strange thing. You can end friendships if they don’t work for you. You can distance yourself from your family, ignore them, deny they exist. But they don’t. They remain, and you are still part of it whether you like it or not.

Regret is also a central theme within Coven of Shadows. The what ifs and maybes of life – what could have been different if you’d said yes instead of no – and sometimes what is the price to be paid?

Faith and trust are important themes too. Who and what do you have faith in, and why? Should trust be given unconditionally or earned. These are issues faces both members of the Walkers and the Otan.



In the Dark Crown, there was a lot of interplay between the main character, Kaoldan and his two daughters, Zahara and Romina. Have things settled down or are things still as tumultuous as they were previously?

Not by a long stretch, they still have a way to go. Their issues will be not solved in a 30-minute chat over a cup of tea. They are all hurt in their own way and it will take time to sort out. Their issues were years in the making and given events in The Dark Crown, and the way they play out in Coven of Shadows it would be a short and boring book if things were sorted too easily – they all have a lot of conflict to face yet.
 

In Coven of Shadows, we meet a new enemy, the Otan. What kind of effect do they have on the balance of the story?

I loved writing the Otan – they are so much fun and you can really let your imagination run riot. The effect of the Otan is considerable. They are the enemy – one of two alongside the Krund – and they the equal and the opposite of the Walker Order. The dark mirror image of our heroes, but also a warning of what Kaoldan, Zalen, etc could have become if it were not for different choices. They knock the balance of the Walker Order, and part of the challenge facing Kaoldan is proving this unknown enemy actually exist. One thing is for certain, the true impact of the Otan as not yet begun.

What's new in the second book, does the world expand? What do we see in this book that is different to the first one?

The world expands by returning the Walkers to their home of Vanguard – which has its own secrets and revelations. We also visit another part of the world, namely the Otan city of Khawen – the City of Eternal Night.

Coven of Shadows reveals more about both the Walker Order itself and its dark mirror image – The Otan. Politics and the way the world really works, which is a new world for Kaoldan and readers to explore as I didn’t reveal too much about it in The Dark Crown.


One of the things that instantly pulled me in with The Dark Crown, was the use of animals in the story, particularly the pantheras. Where did you get the idea to use big cats as mounts?

Two reasons. One - rule of cool. Big cats are far cooler than horses - and I hate horses. I also wanted Walkers to have something that set them apart from ‘normal’ soldiers and riding a big cat did that nicely. Two – influences from the 1980s. He-Man was one of my favourite cartoons growing up. Added to this, I saw images in Pinterest that sparked my imagination.

Because I’m a very visual person Pinterest is my own rabbit-hole. I can spend hours just looking at images, and it sparks my imagination like nothing else. When having to create an entire world from scratch, you need something to help drive it, and the wonders of Pinterest worked for me. One particular image created the universe of the Souls’ Abyss. I saw it and ten minutes later the world was there in my head, ready to be written.

With fantasy fans, a big part of the experience is the magic system. You use one called Fajin. How does it work? How does it add to the story of the book?

Every fantasy book needs magic and having listened to Brandon Sanderson talking about soft and hard systems, I went with a soft system. This means that there are few rules, few defined elements. Magic exists and things can happen – think of it as handwave-ium, like The Force. The full extent of what Fajin can or cannot do is not something that I have really explored in the first two books – except for at the end. Book three will be the one that really opens out what people can or cannot do with Fajin.

Also, it is worth noting it is called Fajin because the word means ‘an explosive release of energy’, which I thought was quite cool, so I called the whole magic system that. No different to Sympathy, The Force or The Will and The Word.


The Walker blades are such a good weapon. I have never seen that before in fantasy. Where did this come from? What made you think - 'I know, I will have a weapon that transforms into whatever the user visualises'?

This is something I am proud of, partly because it made the writing easier, and it was also something that it made sense for Walkers to have. The practicalities of carrying a large weapon - a sword, axe etc, - means travelling distances is hard and cumbersome. And I thought lightsabres were a good example of a weapon that is short and practical but ready when you need it. I then thought, why limit them to one weapon? Wouldn’t it be more fun and interesting to have them be multi-skilled and able to change the weapon as they needed? You cannot wield a broadsword effectively indoors – there is no space to swing it. (And I know because I have tried). So the idea of a weapon that could magically morph to suit the needs of the Walker was born. I have not exactly defined the full extent of the Walkerblade’s capabilities, and it’s something I will explore more as The Souls’ Abyss progresses.

Through both the books, I noticed a recurring line that that a certain well known character in a well known fantasy series uses, and rather than ask what influences you, I would like to ask who are your particular go to authors that you like to read?

Three immediately come to mind.

Growing up my influences were the two Davids - David Eddings and David Gemmell. I devoured their books. I preferred David Eddings, his books just flowed and enveloped me completely. David Gemmell had a stricter – almost formulaic – structure and were much more realistic and gritty. After them I fell off the fantasy bandwagon for a good ten years, then Game of Thrones drew me back in. I’ve read all of George RR Martin’s works and it’s in depth and brilliant, but also unnecessarily long in places.

I am very fussy as a reader and struggle to get into a new author. I’ve read more over recent years, but also discovered that my taste can often be the opposite of books/authors I should like. For example, I’ve read two books that I really didn’t like – sorry no names, there is no point being negative to others. The first was a cult fantasy novel that people fawn over, and I hated it. Everything was too easy and too quick. The second was a recent huge bestseller, but it bored me to death. Far too in-depth and meandering, I almost needed to make notes to remember who is who, etc. Reading like writing - and taste in music - is a subjective thing, I don’t subscribe to the view that a book is good or a classic just because the majority says so. Not everyone likes the Beatles.

I found Joe Abercrombie by accident through an author podcast I listen to each week – The Bestseller Experiment - and despite my natural hesitation I found my favourite fantasy writer. He just drew me in and showed me how clever, witty, dark and poignant fantasy books could be. I’ve read all of his books several times and he’s just the King of Fantasy. I told him about the influence his books had on me – Best Served Cold in particular – when I met him at a book signing in Liverpool in 2019. He was really nice and wished me well with my own books – I couldn’t have been happier. One of my writer dreams is to have an author quote from him about The Souls’ Abyss, maybe one day…

As a self-published author, how does that work for you? What are the strengths and pitfalls of being a self-published author?

Being self-published is really hard, but in essence I thought I’d give you three of each:

Strengths

Freedom – you can do anything, write anything. There are no gatekeepers stopping you from writing the books you want.

Less pressure – your timescales are your own and accordingly you can write when you are able and publish by your own timescales.

The Community – if you know where to find it, the writing and author community are incredible. People are so supportive in terms of their wisdom, time and advice. The Bestseller Experiment is my community where I have found friends, writing heroes and learnt things which would have cost £1000s all for free.


Pitfalls

You’re on your own – ultimately – despite the community and the advice of others- it’s your choice. So if you fly or fall, it’s all down to you. Be prepared for both. Failure is just another way of learning how not to do something, but don’t worry, you’ll do it better next time around.

More pressure – linked to the first point, because you are on your own if you need editing or a front cover it's on you to sort it out and unless you do some research or pay a lot the pressure is greater.

Cost – editing, covers, promotion/advertising can be expensive, and it’ll cost you more if you mess it up. Do the work to save your cash. Research and find out how others are doing it. It does not need to cost a fortune and the timescales are created by you, so take your time exploring and save yourself some money by doing it smarter.


So recently we had some communication about Coven of Shadows and you said that prior to release, the book had a big editing overhaul and you had edited about 40, 000 words. Do you ever think that you would release an expanded edition with some of the deleted scenes popped back in?

To be honest, I don’t think so. I am still developing as a writer and much of the editing was tightening the book up; I overwrite and repeat myself on the first draft. However, my editor suggested that I remove a chapter that I loved so I am going to include this as bonus short story for my newsletter subscribers in the near future, so sign up and you'll get to read it.

Now, I know that this one has only just been released, but you left us with a bit of a cliffhanger. When is the third one going to be released, and will the Soul's Abyss be a trilogy or will it be an expanded series?

I do love a cliffhanger, sorry for that – book three will be out on the 13th October 2021.

My plan is to do three trilogies, it is my version of the Star Wars approach - start in the middle (laying the foundations) then go back (answer the ambiguous story origin elements) and then jump ahead to the finale. I have all nine books for The Souls’ Abyss series named, roughly plotted out and front covers sorted too (it helps me to write them). It’ll take me a few years but if it works as I hope then it’ll be worth it for me as a substantial body of work and also for the readers as something they can really get into and enjoy as they have done so far. It also means if they get picked up by Netflix or HBO, I’ll be rich. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and dreaming…

Well, I enjoyed that Interview, now for a review of the book

A bit about the book

The Otan have returned and must be stopped, or darkness will fall over the land of Thura once again. 

Kaoldan and his Walkers must find missing pieces of the Dark Crown to prevent the fulfilment of this evil prophecy.

Can Kaoldan fight against his past, to fight for his future? Souls have been lost, the sacred order of Walkers has fractured, and his world shattered.  But can Kaoldan tell friend from foe, as the battle lines are drawn?  Kaoldan must discover the truth to free himself from the past.

Romina must fight to suppress the shadows. Darkness surrounds her, every day a new nightmare.  She must trust her strength, find allies amongst her captors, trust her power and her judgement to free herself and save her life.  Can anyone in the Coven of Shadows be trusted?

Review

Hello and welcome. As you know I have been quite engrossed with these two books after S. C. Gowland asked me to read them. Earlier in the week, I reviewed The Dark Crown.

Now it is time for the second book in the series, Coven of Shadows. As a reviewer, it is always difficult reviewing the second book in a trilogy as you do not want to give away any major plot spoilers for number 1. So, I will try my best not to give any spoilers away in relation to the plot. However, there will be references to book 1 so beware.

I think second books are the most difficult to review (and I would suspect that they are more difficult to write), primarily due to the fact that they have to have so much going on. In one aspect they have to continue the story that is started in book 1, whilst propelling the story to book 3, and then stand on their own two feet as a book in its own right. It is so tough being the middle child!

However, SC Gowland does this admirably and for me fulfils all the criteria above.

The story starts immediately from the end of the last book, and Kaoldan has to deal with the revelations that he learnt in the first book. Not only that, he has to continue to build his relationships with his daughters and has to learn how to be a father again to two children who he basically abandoned whilst he went off to not deal with his own problems.

On top of that, there is a new threat to deal with in the land of Essealer and there is a palpable feeling that things are moving forward to a culmination that no one expects.

I have to say, that the second book in The Souls Abyss is just as good as the first and the story moves along well.

One of the main things that I have enjoyed in SC Gower’s books are the characters. There is not one that I have not resonated with and wanted to spend time with.

It’s interesting in this book that as new characters are introduced, and these characters add more to the book. The one that stands out for me is the character is Onala, who is introduced at the beginning of the book as the daughter of the big bad of the story, Rhazien. She is given the task of guarding Kaoldan’s daughter, Romina, as she is held hostage by the Otan. However, as the story progresses, Onala and Romina’s relationship blossoms and she gets a really good character arc that I thoroughly enjoyed as she moves from being a follower who blindly accepts orders, to one with some free will and thought, and there is an especially good scene in which she is given a gift by a character, which she does not know how to respond to.

With the introduction of the Otan, who are primarily the antithesis of The Walkers. SC Gowland gets chance to open the world up a bit more and expand the story. We spend quite a bit of time with the Otan as Romina is taken hostage and we get to see the culture of the Otan through her eyes.

I have to admit in Coven of Shadows, there is one particular scene that I am not going to forgive SC Gowland for, although I can see the reasons for it. And yes, he did go there! However, it does show very well how a certain character (and I will keep that vague due to spoiler issues!) has changed and what they are prepared to do.

Whilst there is the introduction of new characters, the ones that we know and love are all experiencing changes. Kaoldan ends up in a role that he did not expect, and in addition to this, he is still coming to terms with the prospect of fatherhood being thrust upon him.

Also, Zahala gets thrust into the limelight a little a bit more. And guess what? She isn’t all sweetness and light like she was in the first book. And her personality comes more to the fore with the loss of her sister Romina.

Whenever I read this book, there are two things that always come unbidden to my mind. The first one is Phillip Larkin’s poem, This be the verse. Which goes something like they this.

“They f*ck you up, your mum and dad. They may mot mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had. And add some extra, just for you”

And the other thing is a particular scene in The Haunting of Hill House. I think the actual scene is in episode 6 at the funeral parlour. There is this one scene that has stayed with me in particular. It is when the father looks at his children sat on the sofa, all grown up. And for one second you get the view of them from the father’s perspective in which the adults are replaced by the children as they were when they were little.

The reason that I brought this up is that this seriously applies to Kaoldan’s relationship with his two daughters. He constantly sees them as the two children that he left at the Walker training school and has difficulty accepting tha they have grown into capable young women. And with short sightedness, he is always trying to protect them, and subsequently, rather than making the situation better, he ends up making it worse.

There is quite a lot going on in this book, and I like that SC Gowland takes the time to get all the pieces in place before it reaches the ending. The book is more character driven in this respect, but as I said previously, I looked forward to spending time with these characters and wanted to immerse myself in this world.

But, don’t think that there isn’t plot, it’s just that I haven’t touched on it as I don’t want to give anything away.

If you cannot tell, I like these books immensely. And it is the mark of a good book that when you have finished it, it stays with you, and you find yourself just looking back on a particular scene or part of the book, and I found myself revisiting it several times in my head.

And as a final note

I am currently running a Giveaway on twitter for Ebooks of Book 1 & 2 



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