Editor’s Note: you should know by now we love all manner of genres on here, and grimdark is no exception. While most people would think of stuff like Games Workshop’s Warhammer when coming across that particular word, we’re always looking to find more varied takes on it. To that end, our boi Ivan has sourced yet another interview with author Maark Abbott, chatting about the first book in the Ageless series, Incarnate.
Ivan Grabar: Can you tell us what Incarnate is about and few details about main characters?
Maark Abbott: Incarnate is best described as a story of revenge and repercussion. There are three primary characters and an overarching narrative that ties their stories together.
The first major character is D’ūhr’as Kaenna, who is a rafka thief living as part of a gang, abused and beaten. She dies quite early on in the book (not a spoiler, it’s on the blurb!) but prior to her death, she was bound by a Link, which is a manifestation of the Ageless (the series’ equivalent to gods). The Ageless in question, Nixuin, brings her back from death in a new body and blesses her with Glyphs (the series’ means of accessing magic). Instead of using this newfound power to right the wrongs in the city, Kaenna seeks revenge against a world that wronged her – but her resurrection has violated the Balance between the Ageless, which means the others in the pantheon are now free to act on their own designs.
Additionally, her desire for revenge destabilises the city, and that in turn catches the attention of an empire to the south, who see this as an opportunity to mobilise for an invasion. Her story is largely a descent into madness as she loses her grip on sanity, and honestly? She was exhausting to write. There are certain sections from her POV that I took two week breaks from after finishing because they were that unpleasant to write.
The second character who also appears in the early sections of the book is Shroud Herik, who is an Umbral Shield – a mage-hunter. The Umbral Shields hunt down rogue Glyphcasters in the city the story takes place in, and when Kaenna awakens and begins her rampage through Skjøl, it’s on him and his fellow Umbrals to track down this new serial murderer and bring them in, dead or alive. He is a former soldier and suffers from recurring post-traumatic stress nightmares for his part in events that form the backstory. He deals with it by drinking heavily, but his Vow as an Umbral Shield to the Ageless Oumraata allows him to survive and cope with the constant drinking. He turned out to be an unexpected fan favourite, especially in the segments he’s paired up with the Otheiyran Mnemos, Rasha.
The third major character is Anderas Manus, son of the First Mnemos leading the Otheiyran occupation of Skjøl. He has a bit of a cliché going on in that he’s the son of a powerful mage, has no real skill with magic himself, and spends a good deal of his time wringing his hands. His story is only distantly related to the other major character’s arcs, but ties in most closely with the overall main storyline in this volume. He is at his core a coward, and lives as a Loreseeker (an order of archaeologists, librarians and general nerds). Much like Kaenna, he is bonded by a Link, but is rejected by the Ageless in question and hides what he has become from those around him. His actions lead to consequences for those he cares for which ultimately shapes him as a character.
IG: Can you explain to our readers what is grimdark fantasy and how is your work grimdark?
MA: That’s a pretty difficult question. A lot of people would say grimdark fantasy is just constant gore, constant blood, and I can’t really deny that Kaenna’s storyline especially has a lot of that. To me though, grimdark is very much grey on grey morality, a story where there is no clear ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’, everyone is a protagonist to themselves only, everyone has their own agenda.
As an aside I think one of the greatest moments of grimdark (even though the books themselves are not really in that genre) happens in King’s Dragon by Kate Elliott when Liath is subjected to slavery under Frater Hugh. I actually sent Kate a tweet saying that I would so dearly love to punch that man in the mouth. If I remember correctly the reply I got was akin to a knowing laugh. That entire sequence is despair, hopelessness. There’s a tunnel, but there is no light in there, the entrance and exit are caved in… It’s fantastically done.
IG: As you know there are many scifi and fantasy books on the market. Could you tell us what separates your books from others i.e why should readers buy your books?
MA: Another difficult question because it’s very easy to dive headfirst into big-headedness!
I would say that my preference in writing is to write what I want to read, and what I want to read are longer books that play out at a more measured pace, in the vein of Erikson, Elliott or R. Scott Bakker, and if you enjoy books in that vein, I would hope you’d enjoy mine too! Of course trying to even squeeze in next to those names is kind of arrogant of me – but they say to dream big, right?
IG: What is inspiration behind your books?
MA: I’d always wanted to write, ever since first reading Eddings, Feist, Brooks… The main inspiration that made me sit down and write seriously is undoubtedly Steven Erikson with The Malazan Book of the Fallen, which to me is the absolute apex of fantasy just now. That man does things with words that I could only dream of. In more general terms, all of my primary characters are based on aspects of my own personality, which is probably why Kaenna is so draining to write!
She’s based on my anger and struggles with violence as a young man, Herik is based on my regret and my need to better myself, and Anderas is based on my uncertainty and hesitation. I am also a sucker for anything that puts me in the shoes of an assassin which was probably why I went for something sneaky and stabby… In the very first drafts (circa 2003 or so, whilst I was at school) the rafka were forest dwelling, nature loving blue hippy sorts.
Then James Cameron dropped Avatar on us, and I was just like… Uh, where do I take them from here?
IG: Do you have any books, shows, comics or games that influenced your work?
MA: A huge number, yeah. As above, Malazan was a massive influence because it forced me to improve as a reader, which then improved me as a writer. Other influential books were Brent Week’s Night Angel series and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. I’ve been compared to Scott Lynch and Gentlemen Bastards, but I didn’t read those until after Incarnate was finished so I can’t cite him as an influence for this one (though his books are excellent and should be checked out). It probably shows quite heavily in the early Kaenna segments that I was playing Thief: The Dark Project at the time. (Editor's Note: it's never not a good time to play The Dark Project)
There’s a lot of influence from video games, actually – Skies of Arcadia, Dragon Age: Origins, BlazBlue… All three had a pretty hefty impact on varied aspects of the story and characters. BlazBlue especially with respect to Kaenna – the whole story of becoming a living weapon, stripped of your will, came from µ-12’s background and creation.
There are also a lot of nods to music in my writing – during the later half of writing the sequel, Manifest, and now I’m working on book three, Astral, I’ve been listening to a LOT of Black Crown Initiate’s music. Andy’s lyrics are absolute poetry and if he ever sat down to write a book…
IG: What is your method of writing – are you discovery writer or you prefer to make detailed plot and why?
MA: I’d best describe it as a chaotic version of connect the dots. Which is kind of weird because the whole system of Glyphcasting, the Ageless, the world itself is on a document containing a spreadsheet so I can easily refer back to it! I usually consider major events, write them down via an ideomotor sort of method and then see how it flows on reading back. In the first draft of what became Incarnate, there’s a scene with a floating island and that was the original opening of the book. But then as I explored Kaenna and Herik’s storylines I realised it made no sense to open the book with that, so it got moved to around the middle.
I have the major events mapped out (the ending to the series is already written and has been for a couple of years now) but it can be a bit tricky getting there because these ideas pop into my head and I’m like, oh yeah, I should see if I can make this work. It’s balancing the things that I think are going to be cool against what the story itself needs because there’s sometimes a conflict between the two.
IG: Can you tell our readers something about yourself?
MA: I’m in a hardcore punk band called Balgurra playing drums, I work in claimant litigation as a day job, and I spend maybe ten hours a week minimum watching anime. I’m quite involved in playing a Chinese mobile strategy RPG called Girls’ Frontline which initially I started playing because it’s prime material for memes, but I stayed because the storyline is way deeper than I expected – it deals with notions of self, AI agency, long-winded and long-reaching conspiracies…
I never expected a mobile kusoge to suck me in like this one has, but there you go! I am married with two cats, Smudge and Gustav. They help me write sometimes. I have also recently finished book 2 of Ageless, titled Manifest, and started on the third book, Astral.
IG: Where can our readers find your work and where can people contact you?
MA: At present my work is only available on Kindle EBook (I can’t fathom out KDP Paperback and it gives me a splitting headache every time I try). Otherwise you can find me for contact on Facebook, Twitter (@MAbbottWriting) or lurking on Discord.
About the author: