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S.J. Hartland is an Australian journalist, emerging epic fantasy author, and foil fencer (Cyrano club in Sydney,) who has spent too many holidays wandering around obscure castles, and is obsessed with anything medieval. She is originally from Townsville, north Queensland, lived in Sydney for many years, and now calls the Darling Downs home. She recently chatted with me about her Shadow Sword series and gave me some juicy behind the scenes insights!
I wrote the early drafts of The Sword Brotherhood when I was in a very dark place. Depression, anxiety, which I’m at times prey to, struck that year. Writing became a “flow” activity which helped me fight free of overwhelming emotions.
Roaran’s journey, his suffering as his enemy’s prisoner, became an odd sort of mirror for me. His battle was as much against his past, his feelings of despair and hopelessness, as it was against his captors. My battle, too, was to find meaning and a way forward.
In that sense, Roaran’s jailer, Raggamirron, in the early drafts became a psychologist of sorts to Roaran, leading him on a path that today we might think of as “mindfulness.”
Yet in the end, most of those chapters had to go; in fact more than half disappeared into a desktop folder called “dropped chapters.”
The Sword Brotherhood, however, remains a dark book. Because it’s Roaran’s story, because it’s about his path to redemption and self-acceptance, it was always going to be the darkest in the Shadow Sword series.
Although the first in the series, The 19th Bladesman, was at its heart about fatherhood and letting go of power, redemption is a key theme across The Shadow Sword books. Characters often have to confront guilt or shame. But to balance that out, almost as a result of the darker feelings, characters can find hope or acceptance, or simply a way to go on.
Val’s path in The Last Seer King is particularly disturbing. Not only does a sorceress strip him bare emotionally and psychologically, but she forces him to confront his long-buried past. I tried to balance his despair in recounting what happened to him in a tower room centuries ago with Heath’s desire to free Val from his pain.
As Heath says, they could have been friends, with all that friendship offers. Hope. Freedom. Understanding, even comfort. A different kind of love–something I think is rarely explored.
Sometimes I wonder if these themes reassert themselves because I’m a Methodist, going back generations on both sides of the family.
I’m interested in guilt, in how it shapes us, but at the same time, I’m a deep believer that all of us can be redeemed–even Roaran, the Seer King, whose actions had to make sense even if we can’t agree with his choices. Even Genya, who acts out of anger and hurt and costs others their lives.
Her journey into darkness has only begun. Dannon, too, has important lessons to learn in the forthcoming The Sword and its Woman and the fifth book, loosely titled Broken Kingdom.
The Sword and its Woman is set largely in Quisnaf, a city of caves ruled by warrior women. I’ve tried to reverse every gender role I can think of in what is largely a Val tale. In Quisnaf, his worth is no longer measured in his ability with the sword, his classical education, or his position as a lord of Telor, but in his handsome face and his ability to provide children.
Perhaps it’s a risky book; it certainly takes Val in a new direction. He may find something he didn’t expect. But then he will lose it. Of course he will. When am I ever kind to characters?
The book also introduces one of my favourite characters, Rohane, a cursed berserker warrior of Quisnaf.
But before that, I’ve got the first in a new series coming out. Blade Lord is the story of Decallion and Sinnabar. He’s the only blade lord whose soul is not tethered to a ruling family in the distant Circle Kingdoms, which not only makes him valuable but puts him in grave danger. She’s a fura, or enforcer for the temple.
To save Decallion, Sinnabar will rebel against the temple and travel to the lawless Guildlands. She’ll risk her life and her soul. But, Decallion, cursed by magic, is destined to never remember her.
Although set in a dangerous world where the menace of the Shadow Kingdom across the fiery abyss pervades the realm, there are links in Blade Lord back to the world of Telor.
If I get it right, ultimately both series will fold together in a bizarre way.
My 5-Star Review of The Sword Brotherhood
The Sword Brotherhood is the third book in The Shadow Sword series by Susan Hartland. Having not read book one or two, I had some research to do in order to full appreciate book three. The book opens with the lead, Roaran, a prisoner of the lead villain Archanin., who was once his ally, but now wants Roaran to lay his secrets bare. Of course, Roaran endures with determination. The dark imagery and torture is distressing, but immensely effective. I connected with Roaran, I felt the pain of his betrayal and I couldn’t wait to see him liberated.
The Sword Brotherhood combines riveting action and intensely, visceral scenes from page one! While Archanin keeps Roaran imprisoned in a castle protected by magic trying to extract dangerous information that could change the fate of the kingdoms, Dannon struggles to keep the Sword Brotherhood together. He enlists the help of a mighty sorceress, Genya, in an attempt to free Roaran and defeat Archanin, but secrets and savagery stands in their way.
Great fantasies explore the boundaries between ‘good and evil’, and offer glimpses into alternate realities, shaking us from our apathy and challenging our perceptions. The Shadow Sword series achieves this while seducing readers with elaborately crafted realms, enticing plot twists, and unexpected revelations into characters that beguile and disturb.
The Sword Brotherhood reveals a world tearing itself apart through manipulation, domination and subjugation, that was chillingly familiar.
You can find Susan here
Duty and love collide in this powerful epic fantasy about shattering loss, betrayal, and the price of power that will enthral fans of Game of Thrones, Blood Song and the Mistborn trilogy. If you love dark plots, dark magic and characters with even darker secrets; pick up The 19th Bladesman, first in the sensational Shadow Sword series.
For centuries, Roaran sought redemption. Now he can vanquish a tyrant and save a realm in chaos. But only if he cuts his last ties to humanity. Only if he returns to the one place he swore he’d never dare go again…
A breathtaking, heart-pounding journey into darkness and the redemptive power of friendship.The darkest yet in the Shadow Sword saga, The Sword Brotherhood will enthral fans of this epic fantasy series from the author of the award-winning The 19th Bladesman.
I want to Thank S.J. for taking time out of her busy schedule to give us some insights into her amazing story. It certainly is a sweeping epic tale that has captivated me and I hope will intrigue you as well 🙂