Exclusive: Daniel Abraham talks new novel Age of Ash, leaving behind The Expanse

Daniel Abraham, image courtesy of Orbit Books. Photography by Kyle Zimmerman.
Daniel Abraham, image courtesy of Orbit Books. Photography by Kyle Zimmerman. /

Daniel Abraham is one of the most prolific authors of modern sci-fi and fantasy. Though he’s perhaps best known for the sci-fi epic The Expanse, which he coauthored with Ty Franck under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey, Abraham also has two complete fantasy series under his belt: The Long Price Quartet and The Dagger and the Coin, as well as a Star Wars tie-in novel and even a series of urban fantasy books published under the pen name M.L.N. Hanover. He also coauthored the novel Hunter’s Run with George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, and wrote the graphic novel adaptation for A Game of Thrones. Really, it’s a long list.

But we’re not here today to talk about Abraham’s impressive backlist of titles (okay, maybe just a little bit). After finishing out The Expanse novels last year with the release of Leviathan Falls, Abraham is launching a brand new fantasy series: The Kithamar Trilogy. It’s hard to stand out in today’s flooded fantasy market, but Abraham’s newest work explores the genre from a fresh angle that we’ve never seen before. We’re very excited to see how it plays out.

The first Kithamar book, Age of Ash, comes out on February 15. It’s a story of grief and upheaval, of magic and political intrigue and thieves stalking dark alleyways. I loved this book, and will be reviewing it here on the site next week.

To celebrate the release of Age of Ash, we sat down with Daniel Abraham to talk about the origins of his newest fantasy series, leaving behind The Expanse, and how he manages to work on so many different novels at once.

Daniel Abraham, image courtesy of Orbit Books. Photography by Kyle Zimmerman.
Daniel Abraham, image courtesy of Orbit Books. Photography by Kyle Zimmerman. /

DANIEL ROMAN: Hi Daniel, thanks so much for joining us today to talk about your new novel Age of Ash! This release marks your first new fantasy book since you wrapped up The Dagger and the Coin back in 2015, and your return to writing novels solo after your coauthored series The Expanse ended last year. Can you talk a little bit about this new trilogy, and how Kithamar came into your life?

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I’ve actually been working on this since The Expanse was cancelled the first time. There was about three weeks when we all thought it was over, and I was firing up the next new project — I have a list — and this was it. I had actually been looking for a new fantasy project for a while, and I had trouble finding something that turned me on enough to commit to the process, and this was the one.

DR: You’ve worn quite a few different hats over the years, most recently as a writer on The Expanse television show, and cowriting those novels with Ty Franck. Have those experiences changed your process for writing your own solo novels at all? Or is it like returning to a well-oiled machine?

DA: It’s a little odd being the one in charge of all the decisions again, and there’s good and bad to it. I like collaborating, and I like being able to indulge myself both. The process isn’t really that different, but I don’t have the pressure of needing to get the chapter to someone else on deadline. I do miss that some days.

DR: Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I heard that all three books of The Kithamar Trilogy are planned to take place more or less over the same time period, portraying one particularly turbulent year in the city from different perspectives. Which is a fascinating approach that I haven’t really seen done before. What made you decide to take that approach for this series?

DA: Yeah, there’s a structural thing at the center of the project that I needed in order to do what, ultimately, the story is doing. It’s not a trilogy in the one-story-cut-in-three-slices way that Lord of the Rings is. It’s three stand-alone stories that happen in the same place at the same time, and that add up to something larger. I’m a real believer in accessibility. I think a story should be as simple and straightforward as it can be. But I also don’t think it should be simpler than it can be. I feel like my solo career has been about thinking through different kinds of “epic” in epic fantasy. The Long Price Quartet was about the epic scope of a single life. The Dagger and the Coin was my stab at the conventional kind of epicness. The Kithamar books are a third path. There are ways it’s a very constrained form. One city. One year. But it’s doing that to point at something else that would get lost if I did it any other way.

DR: Considering the mosaic nature of the Kithamar books, what made you decide to focus on Alys and Sammish for this book? What was it about the Longhill thieves that made them the right lens for getting across this section of the story’s events?

DA: Part of the progression of the trilogy is a kind of opening out. For me, the thing that really defines Alys and Sammish isn’t that they’re thieves, it’s that they’re desperate. Their circumstances give them a kind of tunnel vision. And their story is about grief, which does the same kind of thing. The second book opens out a little more. And then the third will have the widest view. It’s a story about grief and romance and history, and there’s a progression that’s really built into those ideas. That progression makes its way out.

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham. Image courtesy of Orbit Books.
Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham. Image courtesy of Orbit Books. /

DR: Kithamar is an extremely fleshed out setting, and once we hit a certain twist the details start to take on a lot of extra meaning. Can you talk about how you approached developing the city? Were there any particular challenges or hitches you had to work around, considering how essential Kithamar is to the narrative?

DA: Well, I hired Ty’s wife to make me a map. There’s a way that she’s actually been a touchstone for a lot of my career, which is funny. I named my protagonist after her when I was writing urban fantasy. I built this city in conversations with her about things like erosion and architectural styles. And I borrowed her husband when we were writing The Expanse. She’s a brilliant woman. Really first-class mind. Making a city like this means giving it a history and then seeing how that history expresses itself in architecture and customs and all the little unwritten parts. MFK Fisher wrote a whole book about Aix-en-Provence, and she said that the parts you leave out are the most telling ones. That negative space between the lines you do draw tells more story than the lines. I tried to evoke a city, not catalog it. I think that works better. And I do think cities have a character. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a soul except as a metaphor, but a soul. It’s not hard to get from that to where I went.

DR: Since this is book one of a new series, there’s quite a lot left up in the air at the end of Age of Ash, as well as many events we never got to see the details for. At the same time, Alys and Sammish’s story felt like it ended in a very satisfying way. Have you already begun work on the second Kithamar book? And if so can you give us any hints about what sort of angle it might be taking to this pivotal time in the city’s history?

DA: I ended the story I was telling there. The one about grief and Alys and Sammish. You’ve already met the protagonists of the next two books, but they just didn’t matter in this one. I list them at the end of the prologue. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the next book is about the guy with the wounded hand, and the last one is about the old man by the river. But they have their own stories just the way Alys and Sammish had theirs. Everyone sees something different, because everybody’s standing in a different place. It’s all going to be just the same, and none of it will because it’s seeing all the things you didn’t see before and not looking at the stuff you already did.

DR: The last time we spoke, which was right around the time Leviathan Falls was announced, you mentioned that you and Ty Franck are working on another space opera trilogy. Which I take it to mean you’re now working on that series and Kithamar concurrently to some degree. How do you go about compartmentalizing all the different books you’re working on at any one given time?

DA: Yes, we have that in the works. The first one of those should be turned in by the end of the year. I’ve never had too much trouble shifting from one story to another. I grew up when you still changed channels on the TV. You just click, and there’s a different show going on. It’s like that. The problem is that there’s only so much time. And there are some other things that want my attention too. Fitting it all together and still having some space to relax is harder than it was before.

Memory's Legion by James S.A. Corey. Image courtesy of Orbit Books.
Memory’s Legion by James S.A. Corey. Image courtesy of Orbit Books. /

DR: Speaking of your other projects, Age of Ash isn’t the only book you have coming out in the next couple of months. There’s also Memory’s Legion, which collects all the previous Expanse short fiction for the first time in one book as well as the brand new novella, “The Sins of Our Fathers.” Can you talk a little about the new novella, and the decision to release the collection in general?

DA: We always meant to put the Expanse stories together at some point. It seemed rude to do it before we had them all done. But now that we’ve got them, it’s the moment. That last story is kind of the coda at the end. Like a summary statement, you know? Tell people what you’re gong to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them? This is the story that tells you what we told you.

DR: I always like to ask: what have you read or watched lately that you’ve really enjoyed? (Bonus points if it’s a new release.)

DA: Ever since I read it last year, I’ve been singing the praises of In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. It’s a great book. The things she has to say about the stories we don’t tell and why we don’t tell them has been bouncing around in my head ever since. She’s a hell of a writer.

DR: Ok, to end on a fun note! You’re running a pull, and can choose characters from any fantasy stories to be your flea, cutter, walk-away, and fish. Which role would you play, and who would you choose to fill out the rest of your crew?

DA: For the flea and the fish, I’ll take Calo and Galdo Sanza. Keep things confused. The cutter is obviously Arya Stark. I think I’d make a perfectly cromulent walk-away.

DR: Daniel, thank you again so much for joining us today! We really enjoyed Age of Ash and can’t wait to see where you take the series next.

DA: Thanks so much for having me. I’m glad that the book worked for you. It’s a project I’m really pleased with. I hope it finds its readership.

Age of Ash releases at bookstores and online retailers on February 15. Keep an eye out for our review of the book coming next week.

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