Interview with J. Wesley Bush, Author of Heir to the Raven
I love all thing medieval, so when I heard of Heir to the Raven, I knew I wanted to interview its author, who, I found out, loves history even more than I do (he made it part of his life’s work). Without further ado, I present J. Wesley Bush, author of Heir to the Raven.
1. So tell us about Heir to the Raven. What's the story about?
Heir to the Raven is an epic fantasy in which six characters are drawn into an eons-old conspiracy. At the center is Selwyn Harlowe, son of a Jandari horse-lord, who wants only to join the Knights-Scholastic and fight battles of the mind. But when treachery claims his father and older brother, Selwyn becomes lord of the Savanna March, the Shield of Jandaria.
Ancient enemies quickly invade. Vyr horsemen ravage the frontier even as brutish Priest-King Leax descends from the north. Unwilling and unready, Selwyn must wage war and diplomacy, while learning the harsh lessons of manhood. His compatriots are a bowmaid sister, a cursed stone-man, a faietouched peasant girl, and his dubiously-loyal fool.Together they fight to defend their homeland and unravel the conspiracy that threatens not only Jandaria, but all the free kingdoms.
The novel has plenty of action, but also devotes lots of time to character development and relationships. Anyone who enjoys adventure fantasy with a bit of grit will probably enjoy it. Note that if a movie, Heir to the Raven would be PG-13 for quality violence, medieval earthiness, and a fade-to-black scene that’s core to the plot.
2. Why did you write Heir to the Raven?
I’ve always wanted to write fantasy but waited until I had a genuinely fresh idea. While living in Kenya, my sons asked why zebras couldn’t be ridden, and this morphed into a discussion of how differently savanna cultures would have developed had the tsetse fly not been lethal to horses. We talked about how horses would have revolutionized the transportation, communication, and warfare of East Africa—and then we built a society that blended Turkish-style horse-lords with an East African setting. The book grew from there!
n Heir to the Raven, I was able to include all the things I love in a story: an ensemble cast with multiple storylines, coming-of-age maturation, a bit of romance, the clash of ideals, mystical monsters, realistic medieval battles, intrigue and espionage, and lots of tough choices for everyone.
3. Are there any influences that shaped your story (other books, ideas, interests, etc.)?
Of course! Writing allows me to take the weird minutiae I collect and put it to good use. My brain is constantly on overdrive, always seeking input. My experiences with Kenya, Somalia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East definitely influenced the various cultures in the book, though not always in ways you’d expect.
During my military service, I experienced the coarse, easy-going camaraderie that I think is common to warriors of every era, as well as the logistical and interpersonal headaches of leading troops. All of that ended up in the book.
My grad work was in history, with a focus on migration and nationalism. The Jandari are a people in transition, stuck between their old nomadic ways and “civilization.” This causes lots of class and ethnic conflict, especially for our main character.
When it comes to plot structure, I was a bit under the spell of George R. R. Martin when I wrote it, but who wasn’t? The book’s mythos owes a bit to H.P. Lovecraft – I have malevolent Outer Faie trying to break into our reality, and the world is plagued by misshapen, gibbering horrors called underfaie. (Though I hasten to add, my book has none of the gloom of Lovecraft, nor the gratuitousness of Game of Thrones.)
My faith is also an influence, but not directly. Since I’m dealing with magic, evil faie, and witches, the book is strictly set in an alternate universe, as Tolkien did. Blending Christianity with magic takes a story to dicey, syncretistic places. So while I’m very much a Christian, this is not a “Christian book.”
4. If there were one thing you'd want the reader to take away from Heir to the Raven, what would it be?
More than anything, I’d want them to come away satisfied by a fun read. An epic fantasy novel is a promise from author to reader that they’ll vicariously experience the thrills of a magical, new world.
That said, I do have ideas woven into the story, and these will develop over the five books of the Pierced Veil series. The theme of Duty before Desire is played out in Heir to the Raven. The Founding Fathers, as well as other virtue-oriented cultures such as early Rome, recognized that every right comes with a corresponding responsibility. They knew that freedom without virtue quickly descends into chaos. (Solzhenitsyn’s famous Harvard Address similarly focused on this theme.)
Our society sees freedom as the complete absence of restraint. It views duty, honor, and other virtues as either anachronistic, or as repressive social constructions built by Puritan killjoys. I’d like to make virtue sexy again.
5. Where does the story go from here? Are you working on other projects?
Heir to the Raven wraps up in a splashy, satisfying way, but also sets up great new plotlines. In Book 2, the camera will pull back to reveal new lands – the desert kingdom of Great Keferi, the elegant halls of Aventir, and even the Forbidden Keep of the Oberyn Empire. You can look forward to a kingdom’s fall, a grand betrayal, a quest for lost knowledge, and plenty of swordfights.
Also, I’m 50,000 words into The Magpie Queen, a one-shot novel set in the same world as Heir. It features Emilia Naismith, orphaned noble turned thief-girl, who ends up leading a revolution at the side of an unexpected husband. It’s one-part adventure, one-part tragic love story, and my favorite story I’ve ever written. I love this character. I’m hoping to publish in July 2019, though our move to Kosovo may push it back a bit.
6. I know you love history! What is your favorite historical era/period and why?
Such a good, but unanswerable question! I develop manias for different periods and places, and then read voraciously about them. These have included everything from feudal Japan, to Regency England and ancient Illyria. Because of my day job, these days I’m reading a ton about early Islam, which is fascinating. But if I had to pick just two eras, they would be early America and medieval Europe.
The American Founding represented an amazing confluence of Enlightenment, Reformed Christian, and Whiggish influences. It created a brilliant system of government and way of life – at least in theory. The central thread of American history is our nation gradually living up to the promises it made in the Declaration and the Constitution. (Also, the Revolutionary War is interesting.)
And then medieval Europe because I still have an inner 12-year-old who loves knights. And castles. And trebuchets.
Thank you, John, for a great interview! As it turns out, my favorite periods of history are also early America (early/mid-1770’s Boston) and medieval Europe! I wish you great success with Heir to the Raven and its sequels.
J. Wesley Bush writes fantasy and science fiction and works in international relations. He previously served as an airborne infantryman, military intelligence crypto-linguist, and NGO worker. He holds an MA in History from the University of South Florida and knows everything that won’t get you a job.