Shadowblade, by Anna Kashina

Anna Kashina joins us today. She is the author of Shadowblade, which was just released by Angry Robot Books. Anna chatted with me about her work and her Russian heritage, which she draws on in her writing. Side note: Look at that glorious cover, and yes, the hero does look a bit like the author!

Fantasy and romance sometimes gets a bad rap. Why are you drawn to the genre and what do people often get wrong about it?

There tend to be very different reasons for people to read. Some people read for purely for fun. Some want to challenge their emotions. Yet others tend to read about characters and situations they can directly relate to, and they take this relation quite literary. I suspect it is this last type that is somewhat behind the bad rap for fantasy.

I tend to think of fantasy readers as special. These are the people who may be reading for all the above reasons, but they are more comfortable with different, rather than the familiar life they know. Even more, fantasy is about stretching the boundaries, dwelling in worlds where the extraordinary is possible, or even routine. I’ve seen those who don’t understand this label fantasy as “escapism”, and the ensuing discussions can get pretty heated. The same tends to happen with romance.

As a reader, I am one of those who loves to stretch the reality. I am also very visual, and visually interesting settings are always a bonus. I think historical fantasy based on very detailed worldbuilding is more or less unmatched in that regard.

As a writer, I see fantasy as the ultimate tool that not only enables visually beautiful, exotic settings, but also gives one unmatched possibilities of character development. Using magic and supernatural elements enables me to put my characters through far more challenging tasks than possible in everyday life. These extremes show off the characters’ strength and weaknesses so much better.

A very similar consideration exists with romance. Love is something we all understand, and most of us have experienced firsthand. It’s one of the strongest emotions I know. Putting romance into the story, forcing your characters through all these emotions, adds another dimension to their development, and can add so much to the story too.

In true romance, the additional requirement is the “happily ever after”. When you use romance as an element in a fantasy, though, it doesn’t have to be the case. At least not all the time. I do enjoy the “happily ever after”, but I also enjoy this freedom of unexpected, where nothing can possibly be taken for granted.

What were your influences and what made you decide to write in the fantasy genre?

My earliest influence were fairy tales I loved to read as a child. I think they primed me to be a fantasy fan, and eventually a fantasy author. They also developed my tendency of using multicultural folklore elements to develop my settings. Each of my worlds has a lore and mythology, whether or not they are shown on the page.

Are there differences between Russian and English-language fantasy traditions? How do your books reflect your Russian heritage?

I was about to say that Russian-language fantasy is a very recent thing directly influenced by Western fiction, but then I had to stop myself. Many classical Russian authors wrote fantasy in addition to the mainstream – Gogol and Pushkin immediately come to mind. When I was reading Russian classics, these fantasy stories attracted me more than the rest. They root in traditions and folklore, and this attracted me too, and was one of my first influences that shaped me as an author. And then there is Bulgakov’s MASTER AND MARGARITA, which is one single Russian book that is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in Russian literature. By genre, it is an urban fantasy. It is also brilliant, Most of us practically knew it by heart when we grew up, and in high school we could carry out entire conversation using the quotes from this book.

Back to my Russian heritage. I wrote my first novel in Russian, and then translated it into English using a dictionary. In the process I learned everything about the (in)compatibility of the two languages. Russian has many more tools for rich descriptions. English lends itself very well to action. I use both in my books, and indirectly, I tend to draw from both languages as I write. Of course, since I switched completely to English, in my most recent novels action tends to prevail.

In my worldbuilding I draw directly on the elements of the Russian culture (which is in itself a blend of many other cultures). I also draw on my experiences growing up, which are different from many of those that are common in the US. Camping in the wilderness without campgrounds or any man-made water sources, staying in remote unpopulated areas where the only food available is the one you hunt and gather yourself, hand-baking bread in an outdoor clay oven, heating a house in the dead of the winter with only the firewood you collect, hiking up in the mountains where the locals don’t speak your language and still live the same way they did hundreds of years ago – these are just a few of those things. These experiences tend to create skills and images very relevant to historical fantasy, and in one way or another they transpire into my stories.

And yes, I did write one novel, MISTRESS OF THE SOLSTICE, based very closely on Russian folklore. I am toying with the idea of another one. I feel very lucky to have the first-hand knowledge and experience to do this.

You’ve written a lot. How do you balance your writing career with the rest of your life?

Oh, that’s a hard one! It used to be fairly orderly – I worked during the day, and stole some hours at night for my writing. That was before I had two children.

At the moment, my writing schedule is very chaotic. I carry my laptop with me at all times, and steal in some writing time whenever I can. I tend to think of long waits in the doctor’s office, or airplane travel, as bonus writing time. And, I still have my hour or two after I put my children to sleep. As they grow older, I aim to get more and more. So, at least, there is a plan.

What is your favorite bit about Shadowblade?

My main character, Naia. I wanted to write a story of a regular girl who trains to achieve the highest blademaster rank in the empire. Showing her training, seeing her persevere and overcome impossible odds was very rewarding. Throwing her into an impossible assignment was scary – and in the end, even more fun. Strong female characters are so enjoyable to write about.

About the author:

Anna Kashina writes historical adventure fantasy, featuring exotic settings, martial arts, assassins, and elements of romance. Her “Majat Code” series, published by Angry Robot Books, UK, received two Prism Awards in 2015. She is a Russian by origin, and a scientist in her day job, and she freely draws on these backgrounds in her writing. Her newest novel, SHADOWBLADE, is upcoming from Angry Robot Books on May 7, 2019.
You can learn more about Anna at her blog

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