Now that the last book of my trilogy, Shadow’s Master, has come out, I’ve been looking back over the last four to five years of my life with a fresh perspective. When I first began collecting ideas for a new series of books that would eventually become the Shadow Saga, I never contemplated that those baby-steps would take me so far. I had been writing for many years already, without much success beyond a few published short stories, and I was actually on the verge of giving up. Not giving up writing, because I didn’t think that was possible for me, but giving up on the dream of seeing my books on the bookstore shelves.
Also, I was more than a little naïve about the journey the series would take, growing from a quaint tale about an assassin-gone-(mostly) legit to a freedom fighter battling for the future of his world. When I started the trilogy, what I really wanted to accomplish was to show two aspects in colder reality than is normally seen in fantasy—the personal relationships between characters, and the combat.
Well, I’m not sure Shadow’s Son (my first book) delved deeply enough to accomplish the first goal. (And since reading A Game of Thrones by G.R.R. Martin, my eyes have been opened to the sorts of interactions that fantasy characters can have, and still be accepted by the public.) But most readers seemed to agree that I brought something special to the table in regard to the action scenes, so I tried to build on that.
In the second book, Shadow’s Lure, I wanted to spread my wings, so to speak. I allowed the story to meander and find its own way, to dig deeper into the characters’ lives and find out what made them tick. And, I hoped, still deliver the blistering, hard-boiled fights that readers liked from the first book. I think there must be an unwritten rule in publishing that debut novels receive too much hype, and second books not enough. Whether or not that is true, I knew it was the third book that would cement the series, for better or worse. And so, with not a little pressure (almost entirely self-inflicted), I began Shadow’s Master.
I knew even before I began the actual writing that Master would be a different kind of book. Somewhere during the brainstorming process (I’m an ardent outliner), the feel of the novel transitioned from heroic fantasy to something almost… epic. The forces my hero, Caim, found himself confronting were out to reshape the entire world for their own means. I had a choice to make: go back to the drawing board, or embrace the change. I decided to find out where it led me. In a strange sort of way, that path led me back to the beginning, to a story that—despite it’s bigger challenges and farther-reaching consequences—was about a man discovering what was important in his life, and how far he would go to get what he wanted.
When I finally typed the words “The End” at the conclusion of Master, I was completing a journey more than four years in the making. These books contain my joys and my horrors, my loves and my frustrations, and my hope for a better world built one word at a time. It’s made me look at other series in a different light. Whereas before I was content to be swept away by the story alone, now I can see the sweat and the tears that went into its creation. I just recently finished Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings with no small amount of awe at the sheer amount of energy and time that book represents, the depths to which he was willing to plumb to mine his story. I go into a bookstore and I don’t see a collection of books on the shelves; I see people’s lives measured out in the words. And I take these feelings with me as I begin the next chapter of my career.
Jon Sprunk lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife and son. His first fantasy novel, Shadow’s Son (Pyr Books) was published in 2010, followed by the sequels, Shadow’s Lure and Shadow’s Master. He is also a mentor at the Seton Hill University Writing Program. For more on his life and works, visit www.jonsprunk.com.