Matt Sturges' NOVEL Approach to Magic: THE OFFICE OF SHADOW
JSA Writer Takes NOVEL Approach to Magic
Leave it to a comic book writer to combine Cold War intrigue and a world filled with magic.
The Office of Shadows, the newest novel from writer Matthew Sturges, hits bookstores this month, and while it's set in the world of Faerie just like his first novel, Midwinter, the book has a whole new twist.
That's something readers of the comics by Sturges have come to expect. On titles like Jack of Fables, House of Mystery and JSA All-Stars, the writer combines fantasy, mystery and humor, stretching the boundaries of each genre he touches.
The Office of Shadow is no different. A mixture of intrigue and magic, the book takes one of Midwinter's more mysterious characters, Lord Silverdun, and puts him in the role of spy.
The book is part of a whole universe Sturges is building, with plans for future books that focus on all the characters fans have come to love in the writer's novels.
Newsarama talked with Sturges about the novel, how this compares to his comic book work, and what characters might show up in future books.
Newsarama: Matt, having read Midwinter, it was pretty much a straight-up fantasy book, but this is a little different, isn't it?
Matt Sturges: Yes. This is a little different. The Office of Shadow is a different book than Midwinter. It takes place in the same world as Midwinter and has a lot of the same characters in it, but I wanted to do something that was tonally and structurally a little different while still fitting into the nature of the world that I'd set up in the last book.
Whereas Midwinter was sort of The Dirty Dozen with elves, this is a Cold War spy thriller with elves. At the end of Midwinter, without giving away too much about that book, two great powers were in the state of détente against each other. So it got me thinking about all the spy thrillers I love from this era, and how you can't really tell those stories these days because the Cold War is over, which I guess is good, but not so much for writing spy stories.
So I started thinking, what would a spy story be like in a world like this? And that's where the idea germinated. I thought about what kind of spies you might have in a world filled with magic. That's where the whole thing came about.
It's John le Carré meets Tolkien.
Nrama: Who is the main character in this spy thriller set in a magical world?
Sturges: Lord Silverdun. He was one of my favorite characters from Midwinter, and he's kind of a sly, cynical bastard who's a handsome rogue. I thought he would make a perfect sort of James Bond type of guy to lead us through this adventure.
He's a member of the nobility, so there's all sorts of political wrangling in his background. And political wrangling is a big part of this book. There's a lot of people hitting each other with swords and plenty of magic happening, but there's also a lot of political maneuvering, and that's something Lord Silverdun has been dealing with all his life.
We actually learn about Silverdun's history and how he ended up in prison in the beginning of Midwinter, since we didn't really learn much about him in the first book. In The Office of Shadow, we learn a lot more about him.
Silverdun is a guy who is caught between two desires. On the one hand, he wants to be this dashing rogue who is a nobleman and lives a life of adventure and luxury. But at the same time, he has this strong urge toward spiritual life, and he's constantly battling between those two extremes.
At the beginning of Office of Shadow, he's attempted to give up the life that he's been leading and endure a life of contemplation in a monastery. But we see immediately that it's not working out anywhere near the way he had hoped.
When he gets offered this job for this nascent intelligence organization, he leaps at the chance to do it.
Nrama: What other characters will be involved in the adventure? Who is Lord Silverdun's supporting cast?
Sturges: There are a couple of main characters that he shares screen time with. One is a guy named Ironfoot, who was born very poor, a shepherd's son. Ironfoot gained notoriety as a brilliant tactician in the military and was able to parlay that into what he always wanted, which was an academic career -- something that would have been completely forbidden him as a commoner.
He's now a professor at one of the top universities in Faerie, but this is not the life he would have hoped for. He's always been a man of action; he's always been kind of restless. Teaching classes isn't quite as exciting as he might have hoped. But he's always finding ways to get out of the university and find things to do that are intriguing to him.
At the beginning of this book, he's studying the devastation of a city that took place in Midwinter. It was caused by a massive weapon called the Einswrath, which is essentially the nuclear weapon of this story. And it's the creation of this Einswrath weapon that has put these two powers at odds with each other.
The other main character is a woman named Sela, who has a very strong gift of empathy. In the world of Midwinter and The Office of Shadow, there are 12 gifts, each of them confers different magical abilities on the person who has them. Because of her extraordinary power, Sela was brought to live with an unpleasant character named Lord Tanen, who tried to twist her gift into something he could use for her own benefit.
Because of this, she's ended up in the Faerie equivalent of an insane asylum. That's where we meet her. And her inclusion in this Group of Shadows, which is what they're called, is tricky at best. But it's clear that she could prove extremely valuable as long as she doesn't go insane and kill everyone.
Nrama: How do they fit with Lord Silverdun? Is he in charge?
Sturges: Lord Silverdun is put in charge of this sort of rag-tag bunch, but he is caught between the people he's working with -- these field agents -- and the political maneuvering of those who are in charge of him. This group of spies is a very politically charged sort of thing. And people may want to use them in ways they weren't intended.
That's part of what makes their work so challenging. Some of the moral issues in the book is, how is power best wielded? And what are the limits to how it can be used?
I think it's a unique approach. It's certainly a lot of fun. If you liked Midwinter, there will be plenty of what you liked in this book too. There are big magical battles and floating cities and weird monsters. So if you liked that stuff, you'll like this book.
Nrama: Will we see any of the characters from Midwinter?
Sturges: Mauritane plays a fairly large role in this book. I don't want to elaborate on that too much.
Nrama: What about Brian Satterly and Raieve?
Sturges: Brian Satterly is mentioned, but he's off doing some things that might happen in the next book. So he's kind of busy. Raieve is also off doing some things that might be happening in another book. So everyone's very busy preparing for their own emphasis in the series.
Nrama: So do you have a number of books in the series in mind? Do you have it all plotted out? Or are you leaving it fairly open-ended?
Sturges: I've tried to keep it kind of open. I don't want to hem myself in. There's no reason to say it's going to be a certain number of books. As long as I keep having ideas, there's no reason I can't keep writing them.
Nrama: Has it gotten a little easier for you as a prose writer? I know the first book was accepted to be published without you even really submitting it, and you had to kind of work on the story after writing comics for awhile. Have you gotten more into the flow of writing prose?
Sturges: In some ways, it was much easier, in the sense that I didn't really feel like I had anything to prove. I felt fairly confident about what I was doing.
But at the same time, it's a much more complicated book. A lot more effort went into it. There were certainly times when I thought I would never finish it. But somehow I did. It was a lot more effort than Midwinter, by far. Much more than I thought it would be.
I felt good about what I was doing. I think I grew a lot as a writer between that book and this book, which is a good thing.
I will tell you, though. Writing books without pictures is a lot harder, in many ways. You actually have to describe everything yourself. You don't have some talented artist doing that for you. That was definitely a challenge. I had kind of forgotten how to master that art, and I had to re-learn.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Matt, is there anything you want to tell your comic book fans, or fans who know you from Midwinter, about release of The Office of Shadow?
Sturges: I think if you like the kind of comics I write where this is a lot of action, a good amount of drama, and everything leavened by a healthy dose of humor, then this isn't going to be too far from that. Something that I've always tried to do in my writing is have fun. There are a few really good laughs in The Office of Shadow alongside the people hitting each other with swords and people chasing each other down the corridors of power.