"If you tell a man you're going to cut their head off, at least they'll go to the chopping block knowing what to expect."
There's a turn of phrase that I've recently learned, and I'm not sure where it comes from, but it makes a lot of sense. Trust a grimdark author to see sense in such a gruesome thought.
When I first began writing Pyres, it was right after the birth of my son. I'd just released Sword in September 2022, and planned to release Pyres in May, thinking that six months would be long enough to write and edit the book (it was not). But I had luck at first, and it was one of those creative bullet-trains that I had to leap onto and ride on the roof of, hoping I didn't get knocked off and turned to pieces on the ground below. I wrote about 100k words by the end of January.
I don't know if it's a testament to how much having a baby screws up your mind, but those were the most delusional, most profound, most heartbreaking 100k words I'd ever written. I think if you read the book, you'll feel exactly what I felt. The horror of childbirth, the lack of support that the system has for mothers and their partners, the sleep deprivation that is nothing less than torture.
I have been candid like this before about how much my son's birth has changed me, and sometimes I do wonder if he would like what he sees if he read these posts. I would like to think he would want me to be honest. He would want to know that I'm only human, and sometimes I fuck up.
And I've fucked up. I think it's time I set the record straight: The Pyres of Vengeance was written with the intention of inhabiting the mind of a psychopath, the mind of someone who, when given a choice between the good and bad path, chooses to scorch the earth and burn both paths to the ground. But it also shows perseverance in the darkness that is Richter's mind, a bloody-mindedness that having a code, however twisted that code might be, when someone worse comes along (and there's much, much worse than a coldblooded killer out there). It shows Selene and her child; her struggles with childbirth, the lack of support that mothers have. And it shows that people can choose hope even when everything is bleak. When hope is seen as a childish fantasy.
I was asked recently whether I could write the story any differently, and the honest answer is: no. I could not. It is true to me. I think if I had, and if I were to release a new edition that rounds off the edges, yes, it might have greater appeal, but it wouldn't be honest. I want to make it clear: Pyres is a very, very dark story, and I don't think many people were expecting that. Sword has some dark elements, but it doesn't take the leap into the truly black waters that many grimdark stories go to. Pyres swims in it, breathes those waters.
Read some of the reviews. John Mauro's is a good one. I think perhaps if I'd set expectations earlier, if I'd said that if Sword was a 2.5 on the grimdark scale, then Pyres is a 4.75, and some of the reviews would've had this in mind. I think many underestimate the power of expectations. For many, yes, that jump is too far. But for many more, there's a power in knowing what is coming. Spoilers be damned: there is sexual assault in Pyres, of men and women. There is child abuse (non-sexual). There is child murder. Read the content warnings on my website.
I don't mean to elide what I've just said, and there's a certain tenseness that comes when you're waiting for the "but", but, I also feel like statements like these ignore context, and you'll have to read the book to find out what that context is. For some of you, I know that you won't, and maybe you'll judge me for what I write. And that's okay.
I will say: the series will continue in this vein. If that doesn't jive with you, then I'm happy you enjoyed Sword (if you didn't, I'm not sure why you're here). Sword was always intended to be a standalone story anyhow, so if that's where you choose to get off this crazy train, then I'm glad you could join me this far. But if you'd like to see where this train goes, the depths that the waters go to--and I'm cooking with some goddamn dark waters--then it's great to have you here. You can trust me not to shy away from the worst humanity has to offer. And you can also trust me not to shy away from showing the best, in the face of the worst. Of those that dedicate themselves to a lost cause, knowing they'll lose. Of those that persevere, even when everything is beyond lost, and when persevering isn't a good idea in the long run anyway. All this is, in my opinion, what grimdark is about. And it's what Sword is about, it's what Pyres is about, and it's what the rest of the series will be about.
And maybe my next series will be an epic fantasy with dragons to balance shit out. Fuck it, it'll probably be more successful, anyway.
I'll leave you with a quote from John's review, which is one of my favorites about the series so far:
"To me, reading The Pyres of Vengeance feels like listening to Jane’s Addiction’s debut album, Nothing’s Shocking, with Perry Farrell repeatedly yelling “Sex is violent!” over music that is somehow both messy and overindulgent in its artistry, yet strangely compelling in its own unique way."