Fantastic news, folks! We've got an interview with M.L. Spencer about her awesome finale to the RHENWARS SAGA. I've reviewed every book in the series and loved them all.
So tell us about the RHENWARS SAGA. What's it about?
The Rhenwars Saga is about an overpowered mage--the last of his kind--who is tasked with the job of defending a Western-type society called the Rhen from an invasion of an “Enemy” horde from the Northern “Black Lands”, an intentionally Mordor-esque region on the map. The mage, Darien Lauchlin, commits terrible atrocities in order to defend his homeland. But then, in a turn of events, he is taken to the Black Lands, where he discovers the Enemy are a people living in perpetual darkness, who will die without a means of escape. Darien switches sides and soon begins using his appalling power to help the Black Landers invade the Western nations he had formally sworn to protect, committing more atrocities in the process.
What is the set up in DARKFALL?
By the time we get to Darkfall, we have seen Darien’s character go through a tremendous transformation from hero to a haunted man driven by desperation. He has now become a demon, tasked with fighting for the other side against his former allies. This has caused him tremendous mental anguish. However, Darien has now resolved this inner struggle, and he is committed 100% to his new cause.
Can you tell us about Darien and Kyel?
Kyel Archer was Darien’s acolyte, who has become the mage Darien had always wanted to be. Of the two, he is the more traditional hero-type character. He sees both sides of the war as equally human and deserving of protection, while Darien swings from 100% support of one side to 100% support of the other. In Darkfall, Kyel stands against Darien and resists him as much as he is able, while keeping his oaths, morals, and integrity intact—which is no easy thing to do.
Who are the villains in the book?
There really are no true villains in the Rhenwars Saga, at least none that exist in that state permanently. Villains become allies and protagonists become antagonists fluidly throughout the course of the series. The main “villain” in Darkfall is Zavier Renquist, an ancient mage whose goal is the protection of magic. He wants to go about doing this by releasing the equivalent of Iblis (think of Satan-but-not-really) from the Netherworld. To most people, this solution sounds worse than the problem. But not to Renquist, who sees magic as worth any price.
How did you subvert traditional fantasy expectations?
The first book in the series is written to resemble a very typical Lord of the Rings setup, where you have the beautiful Western civilization filled with white people who are resisting an invading horde of evil creatures from some dark area on a map (these creatures being evil because, well, evil.) You have all the typical fantasy tropes: a dashing, powerful hero with a broken heart. His noble fellow-adventurer who trails after him like a faithful puppy-dog. And the beautiful love interest who remains steadfastly by his side through it all. This should end as expected, right? Boy falls for girl and they share a never-ending true love. Our hero repulses the invading horde with the help of his faithful Samwise-type friend. Good triumphs and Evil is vanquished. And they all live happily ever after in the Great White West.
Nope. Not in this world.
It turns out the invading horde are very human, with a very real and dire problem. They are not white, but brown. They are not invaders, but refugees. Not evil, just desperate. Our Western society is not as good and pure as we thought, but rather barbaric and sanctimonious. Our hero is a damaged man capable of atrocity. Romances devolve into betrayal and heartbreak. Friends and allies become enemies, oaths and loyalties are shattered, and there is no Happily Ever After for anyone. The Rhenwars Saga de-fantasizes the fantastic and brings it crashing into reality.
Can you describe the Westerners and the Darklanders?
The people of the Rhen are the typical people we are used to meeting when we open a fantasy novel. The Rhen resembles Western Europe, filled with kingdoms, towns, temples, and all the usual trappings.
The people of Malikar (The Black Lands) are based on a Middle Eastern society, both Bedouin in the outlying areas and the Ottoman Sultanate in the northern region. They have a strict code of honor, a rich culture that has adapted to the lightless conditions they have been forced to suffer, and are highly disciplined.
What were you going for in your epic? Themes and ideas behind it?
The Rhenwars Saga is an allegory for the modern-day relationship between the West and the Middle East. Rhenwars was conceived after 9/11, when I was still trying to wrap my mind around why anyone would want to fly an aircraft into a building (or three). So I started trying to understand the conflict between the West and the Middle East from both sides of the War on Terrorism. After learning a bit about the area’s history with the West, cultural climate, religious perspectives, etc., I was able to get a better understanding of both sides of the picture, and how each side believes they are morally justified in employing sometimes atrocious tactics in order to advance their political agendas. It’s really a very fascinating topic, how two sides can view themselves as justified and morally righteous, while labelling the other side as malevolent and morally bankrupt. It all comes down to a perspective shift.
How has response been to the books?
Mixed. I get a lot of reviews on Book One complaining that it is very generic. Unfortunately, some people don’t go on to Book 2, where you find out the “point” of the entire series. With the launch of my Box Set, more people are reading through, and the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I’m getting a lot of fantastic feedback from readers who say they love the direction the Saga goes in, and that it is wonderfully different from any fantasy series they’ve ever read before. There seems to be a great deal of excitement over it.
Any advice for self-publishers?
Advertise your book. And do so in ways that get you the best return for your advertising dollar. Above all, don’t try to sell your book to other authors. Sell it to readers.
Is it true there's a collection available and on sale?
Yes! The entire Rhenwars Saga is available as a box set for only $0.99 right now, which is a steal!
What's next for you?
Right now, I am committed to helping a fellow author who passed away finish his series, so I will be helping to ghostwrite that over the next several months. After that… Well, that’s where it gets complicated. I had a new series in a different world planned, world-built, and ready to go. But then I started getting a lot of feedback from my readers that they really wanted another Rhenwars series. So I am now writing a spinoff series that takes place roughly 20 years after the Rhenwars Saga.
Can you recommend any other authors and their work?
Absolutely! I love the works of C.T. Phipps, Richard Nell, Eric T. Knight, JA Andrews, Jesse Teller, Frank Dorrian, Rob Hayes, and Sean Hinn.
Pick up your copy of the series here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07KLXCH5X/
An interview with M.L. Spencer about her wonderful dark fantasy series The Rhenwars Saga. Its novels follow a centuries long saga struggle between mages and demon worshipers were the good and evil aren't quite as clear cut as you might think.
1. So, can you describe The Rhenwars Saga for new readers?
I just won a “Shortest Pitch” award for this...what was it? Oh, yes: “Two opposing orders of mages and a gateway to hell.”
2. What is the premise of Darklands?
In Darklands, Darien, the protagonist from the last novel who gave his life to seal the Well of Tears and rescue his lover from the Netherworld is back, only on this time he has sworn his soul to the God of Chaos. He is tasked with delivering the people he has only ever known as the Enemy from the curse of darkness that has plagued them for a thousand years: a mission which puts him at odds with his former allies.
3. Who are the protagonists of the book?
The main protagonist is Darien Lauchlin, former Sentinel of the Rhen, now a Servant of Xerys. There is also Quin, another servant of the who pledged his soul to Chaos, and Meiran, Darien’s former lover, who is now the leader of the Rhen’s decimated mages.
4. What separates The Rhenwars Saga from other fantasy novels?
The Rhenwars Saga takes all the familiar tropes you would normally expect to find in a typical fantasy series, blends it all up at high speed, and then sprays the resulting concoction all over the kitchen.
5. Darklands is a story which reverses a lot of the good vs. evil we expected from previous books. Was this planned from the beginning? Why go this direction?
This was definitely planned from the beginning. The Rhenwars Saga is about setting up assumptions and then challenging those assumptions by switching perspectives. So this sudden “redirect” in plot direction gave me the chance to shift the camera and see the world through the eyes of the Enemy. In fact, that is exactly why they are called the “Enemy” in the first place: the name typifies the kind of lack of understanding and disregard the people of the Rhen had for their neighbors to the north.
6. The romance elements of your books are always tragic. Is that your style or a deliberate choice to contrast your book against other books?
I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for tragedy. But that’s not the real reason why so many of the romances in my books end tragically. The Quin-Amani-Braden romance tragedy has echoing consequences that shook an entire world for a thousand years. The Darien-Meiran romance isn’t necessarily over, so I’m not going to say how it’s going to ultimately end. But I will say this: it will be logical and realistic outcome that could end no other way considering the personalities of the characters involved and the situations they face.
So...I think the overarching theme here is I enjoy realistic outcomes that might defy the typical – but utterly unrealistic--fantasy romance.
7. What were the influences on the cultures in the setting?
The cultures I drew most heavily on were pre-Islamic Bedouin culture and Ottoman-era Turk.
8. Do you have a favorite character among your leads?
I’m torn between Quin and Darien. If you make me pick, I’ll have to say Darien, because he literally has been in my head for over 20 years. Quin is a relatively recent addition to my cast.
9. What books would you recommend as being like yours?
Definitely "Wraith Knight” by C.T. Phipps! It’s the only book I’ve yet read that really turns the tropes around like Rhenwars does. I get compared to Jordan and GRRM a lot, but I don’t see it. OK -- I kind of see it with Jordan, but it would be a really MESSED UP Jordan. Kind of like if Rand had joined the Dark One and started fighting against Egwene et al. I guess another one I could see a parallel would be Stoker’s Dracula.
10. Did you have any authors that influenced your world?
Plenty! Jordan, of course. Raymond E. Feist, Stephen King, and C.S. Friedman are probably the big ones.
11. What can we expect from the next novel in the series?
The proverbial excrement is going to hit the wind-generating device. War is coming to the Rhen, and it will not be pretty as former friends are realigned as foes. I can promise tons of trickery, treachery, and tragedy! Plenty of hearts will rupture and bleed.