Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Review - Forging of a Knight: Rise of the Slavekeepers

As an added bonus to this week's Friday Review of Hugo Negron's new fantasy epic, Rise of the Slavekeepers, Hugo himself has graciously allowed me to interview him.  So, check out the review, and then learn a little more about this talented fantasy author.

Forging of a Knight: Rise of the Slavekeepers is Hugo Negron’s action-packed, epic sequel to his fantasy debut, Forging of a Knight.  With this new entry to the series, Negron has crafted a complex tale full of enough action, excitement, and plot twists to keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page. 

And then you’ll be left wanting more. (Read on for the full review and interview)

The story starts off simply enough with Qualton, fresh from attaining his place among the Turinthian knights, trudging through a swamp with a band of his new comrades on a mission to slay a beast that has been wreaking havoc on nearby villages.  We are introduced to several new characters in this opening scene, the majority of which are prominently featured throughout the story, including wizened Bartholomew, fierce Jesepha, and chivalrous Euric, a knight hopelessly smitten by Jesepha. 

Not long after this mission, Qualton discovers that the order of Turinthian knights is not what he had believed them to be, lacking in the honor he’d always envisioned.  This leads to an agreement between him and a handful of his fellow knights to uphold the honor of the Turinthian knights that had been lost since the days of Qualtan’s father.

From here, the story takes off into a complex weaving of plots involving mysterious disappearances possibly involving Those That Stand in Shadow, a sinister threat from another world, and a malicious plot that could drag Qualtan’s world into darkness. 

Once the story picks up, Rise of the Slavekeepers rarely slows down enough to let you catch your breath.  Hugo Negron has truly proven his mastery at crafting huge action sequences that literally set your heart racing.  I liken the action to a summer blockbuster action movie, epic in scope and wholly entertaining.  However, there is plenty of substance to the story to complement the action.  The plot is enjoyable throughout, and full of clever and unexpected twists.  To go too far into the story would give away things I feel should be experienced first-hand when reading Rise of the Slavekeepers, but I will say that if you’ve read the first entry in this series, this sequel is bigger in every aspect.  The multitude of creatures in this book are a testament to the author’s seemingly boundless imagination, and are vividly brought to life through his amazing attention to detail.

I will admit that I’d like to see more interaction between Qualtan and Glaive—the once orcne thief who is now Qualtan’s page to the chagrin of the king and Qualtan’s wizard uncle—since the way their differing personalities clashed was one of my favorite aspects of the first book.  Also, though entertaining page-turners, the action scenes occasionally detracted from the story for a little longer than I would’ve liked.  Of course, considering that they still kept me glued to the pages to the point that I didn’t dare skim just to get back to the story, this is a minor complaint.

I recommend starting with the first book to truly get to know Qualtan and his world, but Rise of the Slavekeepers does stand strong on its own, and I feel it could be enjoyed without reading the first book in the series.  With its ending clearly setting the story up at least one more book—if not more—I’m already anticipating the next volume in the series.  Considering what the final pages hint at, it seems we’ll be treated to an even more exciting and epic tale, and I’m eager to see what Hugo Negron has in store for Qualtan and his friends.



And now, read on to learn more about Hugo Negron, such as why his 7th grade teacher was so awesome and what the future hold for Qualtan and his friends in the Forging of a Knight series.

Forging of a Knight: Rise of the Slavekeepers is your newest release.  Why should readers pick up a copy?

For anyone following the series, and even those that haven’t – a far-reaching quest, a bevy of villains, and great characters framed within a backdrop of fantasy and action! Beyond the inter-dimensional creatures, the threat of Those That Stand in Shadow, and all the intrigue and mystery in-between, you have down to earth friendships, relationships, romance, maturation, and growth.

Rise of the Slavekeepers is absolutely packed with fast-paced, epic action scenes.  Where do you draw your inspiration for these?

The one thing I would sometimes be disappointed with when reading some fantasy tales was the action.  When these scenes would arise, they were on occasion generic, bland, or glossed over so quickly you were left scratching your head trying to figure out what actually occurred.  For example, you may have some sort of story buildup to an epic confrontation, and then once it happens, in one page the protagonists are meeting for a classic battle, and then in the next the bad guy is knocked on his arse, with no explanation in-between.  I think that was the one thing I didn’t like about Lord of the Rings –and I’m a big fan, especially of The Hobbit - all this buildup to Sauron being this great evil, this final confrontation with the ultimate enemy…and then he just happens to topple over like a drunken sailor and that’s the end.  That’s it??? 

Especially without having illustrations to fall back on, I think its even more imperative to give that mental image to the reader of what is happening. It’s almost like watching a movie and then breaking down the fight/action sequences in written form. The challenge was making sure the action didn’t supplant the story or the characters.

This book is a lot different from the first in terms of general story.  Where the first told a simpler tale of Qualtan’s struggles to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Turinthian knight, Rise of the Slavekeepers dives head first into an elaborate, epic fantasy storyline.  Could you talk a little about making the jump to such an epic tale?  Did you enjoy working with the larger cast of characters? 

As Qualtan broadened his experiences/world view, I wanted to broaden the world around him.  When I first wrote Slavekeepers, I had Qualtan saving every character/scene in sight, and I realized, ok, he’s a newbie knight, and even with his special powers, it doesn’t makes sense if he’s a rookie to be doing everything right the first time out and hogging the show - the end result was a pretty boring read.  So I took the supporting knights I had originally written as pretty much cannon fodder (think Star Trek Red Shirts) and fleshed them out.  I especially enjoyed how Jesepha and Bartholomew turned out.  At first there was no “female” knight to the group, and the knights all tended to come off as being the same. I wanted to add some different players/voices to the story.  Once I made a he into a she, Jesepha took a life of her own, and took me down some paths I hadn’t considered. She basically wrote herself along with Bartholomew and Visandus. It’s pretty cool when you see a character you invent do that to a story.

What challenges did you face when writing Rise of the Slavekeepers?

My original concept was really complex – I had some additional characters, adventures within adventures, and additional sub-plots – it became way too unmanageable, and the story just got lost in the mess it was becoming.  When I think of it now, I could have made this into two volumes - a part one and part two, but felt in the end it was best to keep it down to one book. The big challenge was to dissect the scenes, keep what I thought was important, and reframe or remove the rest. 

Some reviews of your first book, Forging of a Knight, mention the book as a young adult novel.  Would you agree with this classification?  If so, do you think the same applies to Rise of the Slavekeepers? 

I think the books can be (and have been, judging by the comments readers have made to me) equally enjoyed by both younger and older readers.  Forging of a Knight starts off rather simply and there’s a little bit of innocence to it at first, but as Qualtan starts going through these situations of betrayals, manipulations, and lies, he starts to mature, and to a degree, so does the premise.  Once he becomes a knight, things get a bit more serious in a way.  I tried not to make the stories and background myths too complex because that can put a reader off from following the story – at least it does so for me, especially when its fantasy based and you have all of these strange sounding names for characters, cities, places, histories, etc. I don’t think that makes it necessarily “only” a young adult novel, just more of an easier one to follow.

One of my favorite aspects of the first book was how Qualtan and Glaive, two extremely different personality types, played off of one other.  In Rise of the Slavekeepers, there are far less opportunities for the two characters to interact, thus far less instances of their entertaining banter.  Can we expect to see more interaction between the two in the future?  (this question’s mainly just for my own benefit J)

lol – in Slavekeepers, as far as Glaive was concerned, it was more about his additional acceptance and acknowledgement by others beyond Qualtan, and developing a sense of trust and friendship outside of his knightly pal.  For this to take place, I felt I had to separate the two, otherwise it wouldn’t have really given him a chance to grow outside of his sidekick role. 

There is a lot more coming between Glaive and Qualtan, however.  Glaive makes a very minor appearance in book three (sad to say), but that’s because of a certain secret mission he is given by King Prelance, and the end result of THAT, and what happens to him, will be the premise for book four…

There’s obviously much more to Qualtan’s story.  What can readers expect for the future of the Forging of a Knight series? 

Its funny, I think of your character Max, and it brings to mind the fact that when I first wrote Qualtan, he had a talking owl companion given to him by his uncle to keep him out of trouble! Then I just couldn’t figure out how to insert the owl in the stories to do more than just fly around looking for danger, so I dropped him.

Each of the stories to date, and those coming up next, have dealt with certain aspects of Qualtan’s emotional growth, which correlates I think to what a lot of people go through in everyday life - hoping to live up to parents’ expectations, fearing failure in a chosen career, and then once you’ve achieved that comfort level in that career, hoping to excel/advance, to become the top of your profession, and wondering what to do next.  The first book was mainly Qualtan’s attempt to prove worthy of his dad’s legacy and hoping he could prove worthy enough to become a knight.  The second book was more about now that he WAS a knight, would he be a good enough one, able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other knights?  The third book will see him testing himself as to whether or not he has finally excelled as a knight, to become a true hero.

Now, ongoing throughout all this has been this fear (curse?) that he would end up losing everything: his sword, respect, his position, all of it.  A few books down the road, he’ll finally find out for sure…

According to your author bio, you have an extensive background in psychology.  How has this helped in crafting your characters and stories?

Hmmm – well, I think it helps you to visualize underlying needs in a character – that people usually can and do put on a different mask of themselves based upon the situation or the need – home, work, family, friends, etc.  So in trying to keep the majority of the characters three-dimensional, I’ve put in some additional layers to their behavior.  Sir Richard seems to be a grouchy drunken PITA, but then you learn he drinks to keep himself sane from all the horrors and bloodshed he has seen.  Sir Rutt seems to want to avoid any teamwork or responsibility with the other knights, mostly b/c he just wants to make it out alive to retirement.  Glaive is a cynical rogue, but that’s to protect himself emotionally after all the stuff he’s been through. Even with Darksiege, you discover its not just about being evil, it’s about being evil with style

What made you want to become a writer, and what prompted you to write fantasy? 

I always loved fantasy.   I blame my 7th grade teacher for getting me into fantasy.  She actually taught her class to play a role playing fantasy game to encourage teamwork, leadership, and creative thinking – wonder if that would be allowed nowadays – after that, I read The Hobbit, books on King Arthur, Greek mythology, went to a couple of Medieval Fairs and never looked back.

Reading got me into writing.  Reading the stuff I mentioned above, I started tinkering with writing my own stories, and gradually, from grade school up to my teens, developed what would eventually become Forging of a Knight.  At one point I got so busy with college, work, life, etc., as we all do, that I thought, eh, what’s the point, and I dumped all my writing and notes into the trash! Then I thought twice about it, and went back to retrieve it all.  Glad I did…

What authors influence your writing?

I would say HP Lovecraft and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – two of my favorite authors, and mostly because of the “classical” style in their writing – and how VERY detailed they were in describing characters, situations, surroundings, etc.  I know that can be stifling for some, but that attention to the small stuff really brought their stories to life for me.

When you sit down to write, what items/factors/settings are essential to the process?

Solitude and music (usually classical, tribal, Celtic, or from movies like Iron Man and Krull – the opening theme song and Flight of the Firemares from Krull really put me in the mindset to write fantasy!). Having a 21 month old has rather forced me to modify the solitude part, though…

What are you currently working on (in terms of writing)?  Any future projects in mind? 

I’m just about ready to send book three in the Forging of a Knight series: Prison Planet of the Mah-Lahkt to my editor.  If you think book two had a bunch of characters, wait until you read this one: all the Arch-Mages (along with a couple of apprentices), all the heroes that have the same enchantments as Qualtan (meaning a return by Prince Termenon from the first book in addition to a few others), Jesepha, some rather unique allies, like a lizard-like champion of the lina folk, and a mysterious knight that’s been cursed by Death, along with Darksiege, Shaz, and a bunch of others.  Add to that snippets of Glaive, Bartholomew, Euric, and some surprise others, and it’s going to be quite the party.

After book three, I’ll be at the “halfway point.” I had originally mapped out six tales of Qualtan’s adventures (I actually had a lot more, but I came up with six that in my mind made sense enough to be coherent, readable stories), although I’ve been playing with a concept for a seventh.  We’ll see if I can hopefully get to all of them.

When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?

Biking, hiking, reading, watching British comedies with my wife, re-watching old sci-fi shows and movies (Tom Baker era Dr. Who, anyone?), and devouring every stuffed pizza I can find…

Favorite book? 

I would have to go with series – all the original tales of Sherlock Holmes; and from H.P. Lovecraft - The Dunwich Horror, At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, and the Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward are all amazing tales. I’ve enjoyed T.E.D. Klein’s work, and Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series.

Favorite movie?

Anything that has ninjas, Godzilla, super-heroes, monsters, space ships, and souped-up dystopian cars in them…preferably all in the same movie…

Favorite musical artist?  

Too many to mention – I grew up in the 80’s so you can take your pick from the artists back then...  8 )

What is one thing that your readers probably don’t know about you?

Old musicals – Singing in the Rain, An American in Paris, Gene Kelly, Syd Charisse, Donald O’Connor, Fred Astaire…love em all!!

Image of Hugo Valentin Negron

Hugo Negron is an avid fan of myths, legends, and folktales.  He grew up in Illinois where he still resides with his wife and son.  His background includes an M.A. in clinical psychology from Roosevelt University as well as an M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

He enjoys reading, biking, and walking winding trails through darksome forests, searching out the mystical beasts that reside therein.


Thanks, Hugo, for participating in this interview and providing such great answers!

Be sure to check out Hugo Negron's books here, and like his Facebook page here to get up to date information about the next book in his Forging of a Knight series.


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