Today, I am very excited to host Ben Peek, author of the The Children Trilogy, to Bookwraiths. The second book in his fantasy series (Leviathan’s Blood) just hit the shelves here in the United States on May 31st, 2016, and I was fortunate enough to snag a copy of it as well as Book One, The Godless. (Look for my reviews of the novels in the days to come!) Not only that, but Mr. Peek even volunteered to share his thoughts on royalty in his fantasy stories. So enjoy!
A World Without Castles
It is a strange thing, but Australia has a Queen.
I’m nearly forty and Elizabeth Windsor has been the Queen my entire life. She turned ninety this year. I’d struggle to tell you a whole lot about her, really. I live in her colony, but she does not.
Her presence manifests mostly on the back of coins and on one side of the five dollar note. There’s the news articles, but I largely flip past them. When royal family members die, either in the lap of luxury, or in a car, I don’t feel much. If I am honest with you, it seems a bit silly to have a Queen in Australia. Not everyone thinks that, of course, but it is how it strikes me.
Perhaps that is a strange thing for me to say. After all, I write fantasy. Big, epic fantasy, with dead gods, swords, and all of that. My latest book is called Leviathan’s Blood. If you hold it just right, swing it hard enough, you could commit regicide with it. I’m not saying you should, but it’s a big book and you could. There’s no need to thank me.
Fantasy is full of Queens. Kings, as well. Princes, Princesses, Lords, Ladies, Barons, Baronesses. There are castles, horses, and lakes. A lot of them, I’m sad to say, try to kill each other. Well, the royals do. Not the lakes. Though it would be interesting to read a book where lakes try to kill each other with knives, swords, poison. Perhaps it will be the next big thing, after grimdark. Grimlake. Or lakedark. By any other word, you might call it drowning. Still, until then, we’ll just have to settle with the terrible things that royals do to each other.
By and large, big, epic fantasy is built on echoes of Western culture, with rolling hills, crusades, and savages being brought to heel by educated cultures. Most of the latter is led by a Queen. Or a King. Or a Lost King/Queen That Will Emerge One Day And Bring That Culture Back To Its Pinnacle. I am sure you know how it goes.
But I’m Australian. When a Queen appears in Leviathan’s Blood, she is an elderly woman, a figure across the ocean in a country called Ooila. She is ill, and because of her illness, she has begun to assign parts of herself to others. Another woman is The Voice of the Queen. Yet another is The Eyes of the Queen. She lives on the edges of my narrative, a figure whose power is diminishing, and who can see social change emerging beneath her. I think, perhaps, that this is a very Australian view to have. This is, I think, how royalty looks from the other side of the world. After all, having a Queen is a bit strange, when you think about it.
At the centre of my book is, instead, a refugee. As a child, she was rescued from a genocidal war, and grew up in a mountain town, on the back of a giant dead god.
Lots of refugees have come to Australia to make their home. More than, in truth, Queens.
In 1839, what many consider to be the first refugees, the Lutherans, came to Australia because of persecution in Prussia. Lots of European refugees came after them, helped, if I am to be honest, by the White Australia Policy. Sadly, the title is a bit self explanatory. After WW2, Australia continued to take in more and more white refugees. It wasn’t until the seventies that a large Vietnamese population, fleeing the war, began to seek asylum within the country. Since then, people have come from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Africa, Iran, and more. Unfortunately, there are a lot of countries that do a lot of terrible things to their people. Despite the politics that surrounds the topic, it has always struck me as a welcome thing that Australia can provide this safety, this ability to make a new life. It isn’t to say Australia has always treated its people right – I refer you, with sadness once again, to the White Australia Policy – but immigration is much more a part of Australia’s heart that a Queen.
My other characters come from various parts of the world, as well. One is an exiled Baron from Ooila. Yet another comes from a cold part of the world called Kakar. Another is from Gogair, the slave capital of the world. Each of them have gone in search of a new life, a better life. You would not believe how many people I have met in my life who have said that to me in Australia. Indeed, a part of my own family left England after WW2 to do exactly that. That sense of aspiration, of being part of a country formed by people from throughout the world, is very much a part of my daily life. It is, naturally, part of my books.
So is a huge, ancient culture. I am not an Indigenous Australian, but I am an Australian, and I know that at the heart of Australia is the oldest continuous culture on Earth. It runs through all parts of the country, even though Indigenous Australians have suffered greatly at the hand of British rule in the last two hundred and twenty-eight years. But their culture is there, richly textured, layered, and complex. It is a very living, very real sense of history that I wanted to capture in my books. You will find a constant sense of history in The Godless and Leviathan’s Blood. It is not based on Indigenous Australia’s history. That was never the point. My world is not a reflection of Australia. But it has risen from my subconscious, from the country I live in.
It makes things a little different. A little less Queens and Kings and knives in the back – as it should be, of course. Not every fantasy book should be the same, just as not every country is, either.
Ben Peek is the critically acclaimed Sydney based author of the Godless, Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, Black Sheep, and the collection Dead Americans and Other Stories.
In 2016, his novel Leviathan’s Blood, the second book in the Children Trilogy, will be released by TOR in the UK, Thomas Dunne in the US, and Piper in Germany.
He holds a doctorate in literature and splits his time between teaching and writing.
His first novel, Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, had Rave Magazine say, “Ben Peek [has] joined the ranks of writers to realise dressing up their memoirs as a novel is less interesting that writing an actual autobiography with Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth….” Originally published by Wheatland Press, the series of alphabetical entries lists author hoaxes whilst also is an actual autobiography. His second novel, Black Sheep, was reviewed by Paul DiFillipo who said Ben Peek “crafts a quietly horrifying world displaced from ours by a century of time and an implosion of globalist attitudes.”
Peek is the creator of the Urban Sprawl Project, a psychogeography pamphlet for which he wrote and took photographs. It was given out free in the suburbs of Sydney. With artist Anna Brown, he created the autobiographical comic, Nowhere Near Savannah, which was run in weekly installments on his blog. In addition to this, he also conducted the first Australian Science Fiction Author and Artist Snapshot, interviewing over forty writers, artists and editors in the space of two weeks. He has since written reviews and articles for Strange Horizons, Overland, and various street presses.
Peek’s first piece of short fiction was published in 1996. He has since had published over thirty stories, novelettes and novellas. These have been published in anthologies such as Forever Shores, edited by Peter McNamara and Margaret Winch; Leviathan Four: Cities, edited by Forrest Aquirre; Paper Cities, edited by Ekaterina Sedia; and the Agog! series, edited by Cat Sparks. His stories have also appeared in a range of diverse magazines, including Fantasy Magazine, Overland, Phantom and Aurealis. Peek’s work has also being reprinted in various editions of Year’s Best volumes and nominated for a number of awards.