Feature: Fantasy is an Umbrella

chaosmage-final Stephen Aryan was born in 1977 and raised by the sea in the North East of England. He started reading fantasy at a young age and cites among his early influences Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Ursula Le Guin, Terry Brooks, David Eddings and David Gemmell. He lives in West Yorkshire and when he’s not sampling real ales or walking in the hills, he can be found reading and writing fantasy. His latest novel Chaosmage was published by Little Brown in October, and here he discusses an usual definition of fantasy…



That title makes sense, right? No? Ok, let me explain.

The most common question I’m asked is ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ Ok, that’s not true. The most common is ‘how tall are you?’ The second is about ideas and the third is ‘why do you write fantasy?’

Fantasy is the ultimate cheat code. You can write any kind of story you want and it is still classed as fantasy.

My first published novel, Battlemage, is focused around a war, and it has frontline warriors who are squaddies living and dying by the sword, politics with Generals directing the war, and mages, powerful living weapons throwing around fireballs and lightning bolts. It is a story about the people involved in what is essentially a first world war. It is also a story about power and its abuses.

My second book, Bloodmage, is completely different. It’s more tightly focused in scope and is a crime thriller. Two of the main characters are basically cops investigating a serial killer, while another character works for a crime boss and is looking into who is stirring up trouble between the crime Families. It contains boiled down elements from lots stuff I’ve watched over the decades. From every cop show stretching back to The Bill, Columbo and NYPD Blue, right up to the present with Blue Bloods. It is also inspired by urban fantasy series like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels. There’s also a dash of Tinker, Tailor and James Bond in there, as both Bloodmage and Battlemage contain elements of espionage.

aryanWith Chaosmage, I wanted to do something completely different again. It’s a thriller and horror story, centred around a forgotten and rotting city on the edge of the world. There’s something dangerous lurking in the shadows, killing people, changing them, and two characters are sent in to find out what is going on and try to stop it before the madness spreads. This book is a nod to many of my horror and thriller influences, from Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Richard Matheson’s I am Legend, to every supernatural TV show I’ve watched over the years including Buffy, Angel, American Gothic, Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow, Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Millennium, Grimm and many more.

So all of that is going on in just my books, plus a whole bunch of other things I’ve not mentioned. It’s nearly forty years of stuff that’s been filtered through my brain on to the page. Three very different stories that are standalone, but also build on one another and tie together into one larger story, and yet, all three novels are classed as epic fantasy.

There are lots of sub-genres of fantasy novel, and I understand why they are arranged that way in bookshops, but inside each of those sections is a world of possibilities.

If I’m in the mood for some swashbuckling action, I can strap on my fake hook and delve into Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch. If I want to walk the dusty plains of an unexplored frontier I can pick up a copy of Red Country by Joe Abercrombie. If I want a creepy gothic story set in an immense castle I’ll pick up a copy of The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick. Or I might want a funny, epic, adventure story, in which case I’d read The Copper Promise by Jen Williams.

All of which brings me back to my original questions. The answers to which are:-

1) My ideas come from a magic bag I recovered from the stomach of a slain dragon.

2) I’m six foot five inches tall.

3) Why wouldn’t you want to write fantasy?

Fantasy can be anything and go anywhere. A fantasy novel, unlike a TV show or a film, is only constrained by the imagination of the writer. I can have a cast of millions and don’t have to worry about the budget, the cost of hiring extras, or the months of CGI it will take to create it.

Growing up I read the entire myths and legends section of my school library. Then the whole section in my town library. I’ve read comics for decades because they’re another form of epic myth, about larger than life fantastic characters, that go on adventures. It’s all fantasy, whether they carry a sword or wear brightly coloured spandex.

I read outside the fantasy genre, but most of my books are in the SFF arena, because I love spending time in glorious, disturbing, magical worlds conjured up from the imagination of incredible writers. And what could be more fun than that?

Chaosmage is out now from Little, Brown.


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