Cover reveal time! This is the cover of The Siege of Burning Grass, which will be coming out from Solaris Books in March 2024! By Clare Stacey at Head Design, graphic by Solaris Books, I am not that talented at Canva and I'm very much on the 'scrawl on MS Paint GRAPHIC DESIGN IS MY PASSION' end of things.
For people who may be like "Wait, this came out of nowhere," I just wasn't talking about it much while I worked on it! I guess like most of my stuff. This was the one where I just scribbled down one day "A pacifist, a non-jail punishment for crime, averting a war," we ended up with a 130K word hardback novel (as one does). This was the "Untitled fantasy novel" that was bundled in with The Void Ascendant book deal to basically bribe me into writing that third book.
I'm pretty pleased with the book; I think it's one of my stronger longform stories. I'm not even sure what I mean by strong any more. It used to just mean "It sounds the way I want it to sound" (and it does that! David Moore and the editing team kept a pretty light touch on the prose) but now I think it also, in this case, may mean that I wrote a road trip novel as well as a spy novel as well as a war novel and the three things hold each other up rather than break each other down or steal from one another. And I should add that over my lifetime I have certainly read a lot of spy and war novels (well, they go together) and... well, gone on road trips?
I also like the cover we eventually agreed on! There was an earlier version that both my agent and I strongly disliked—not because it was ugly or amateurish or offensive or anything like that, but because we felt it misrepresented the contents of the book to kind of an intolerable degree. It would be a perfect cover for a completely different book! This one is better for the book it really is, which I think is an important lesson to learn too (or to have learned at some point in my publishing career; it would be terrible to leave the said career without having learned that). What it captures is the heart of the novel, or the core of the novel. And the heart is war... grungy, filthy, surreal, confusing, a world that was once whole now fragmented into pieces that defy understanding. (And also in this case, it happens to be something that the main character hallucinates while he's feverish from an infection.)
What's the title about? It's about a minor ruse—a hastily-improvised trick of smoke and mirrors, literally—to do something fairly desperate (get into a floating city without being shot down or simply falling to one's death). And how did I seize on that? I really have no idea. I can't remember. But it was one of those cases where it actually spoke to me, where it told me it was correct, which doesn't always happen. In this case I feel the tiny ruse speaks for so much else in the book—that it is the book in microcosm, as the mission is the war in microcosm.
And what's the book about? Who even knows what books are about. Did I talk about this already? Basically, Alefret, who's been working away at building an anti-war pacifist movement during a war in his country is arrested (and severely wounded, which does affect the story), then promised his freedom as well as the chance to end the war if and only if he agrees to accompany a soldier, Qhudur, into one of the enemy cities. Their brief is to use Alefret's newfound fame to infiltrate one of the enemy's pacifist groups and complete a secret mission against the government. Can he do it? Can he do it and stay sane? Can he do it and live? Is one life a pretty good trade to end a war?
Anyway. This was a hard one, a heavy one to write. Particularly as the Ukraine invasion was ongoing before I handed it in; I found I was suddenly writing a war book during a war, just as for A Broken Darkness I was writing a plague book during a plague. And the war is still going on. And the plague is still going on. And fiction wasn't, I thought, a way that I was processing things; but let's just admit it, your writing brain processes things even when you don't want it to. It's like one of those touch-activated shredders that'll just shred stuff even if you're like "NO I CHANGED MY MIND" and try to pull it out of the teeth. Everything that goes into us goes back out somehow into our writing. I used to not believe that. Now I think it's inevitable.
I hope people will pre-order the book, at any rate! It'll be my second book out next year, after The Butcher of the Forest, and my first ever (EVER! EVER!!) hardback!