Welcome back to CR! For newcomers, let’s start with an introduction: Who is R.S. Ford?
Nice to be back. R. S. Ford has been writing fantasy for around 10 years now. I started with a little novel called Kultus back in 2011, and since then I’ve written two fantasy trilogies – Steelhaven and War of the Archons. During that time I’ve also worked as a TTRPG editor for various publishers, and as a computer game writer for Frontier Developments. As well as starting a new trilogy that opens with Engines of Empire, I’ve recently branched into historical fiction too, with the novel Oath Bound.
Engines of Empire, the first novel in your third fantasy series, is due to be published by Orbit in January. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
It’s the first book in a brand new epic fantasy trilogy, The Age of Uprising – a sprawling tale of family, intrigue and betrayal, set in a continent teetering on the edge of war. That’s certainly the elevator pitch anyway.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Despite the fact I’ve written two previous fantasy trilogies, I never felt I’d delved into anything truly epic. Steelhaven was a grimdark tale with a large cast, but limited to a single city. With War of the Archons, I told an epic story but in a fairly intimate way. With the Age of Uprising, I wanted a more sprawling feel – a continent-wide conflict told on a truly epic scale. Consequently, I spent much longer percolating the ideas and working on lore and worldbuilding than I’d ever done before.
My inspiration, like most writers I think, is drawn from a range of sources. Film, TV, video games and comics are as much an influence as other novels. Add to that real world history and current events, and you’re drawing on a host of things, like a writing magpie, to flesh out your work. Nothing is ever new, and for me all writing tends to be a golem – an animated corpse sewn together from the cadavers of your experience. That probably makes the process sound more gruesome than it actually is.
Were there any lessons learned from writing your first two series—Steelhaven and War of the Archons—that have informed how you approached writing and planning the Age of Uprising?
Without a doubt. I think with the Steelhaven series I introduced too many characters, too quickly. Readers can handle multiple POVs in their epic fantasy, just not all at once, and flitting between different characters too often at the start ruins the ongoing narrative. Saying that, readers who stick with Herald of the Storm for the first 80 pages seem to forgive that slight faux pas.
With War of the Archons I started A Demon in Silver as a bit of a pantsing/gardening experiment – writing whatever took my fancy and seeing where the narrative took me. It was a mistake (though it works perfectly well for other writers) and I eventually found myself tied up in narrative knots, resulting in a complete rewrite of the third act, which ultimately delayed the release. I now plot meticulously.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
None that I’m able to stick to. Writing a 190,000 word manuscript is a huge mountain to climb, particularly for someone who lacks focus in the way I do (undiagnosed ADD perhaps?). Throughout the process I’ll alter my approach to drafting a manuscript several times – one day writing in the office, one day a pub or library, one day using dictation software, one day using my thumbs and a phone – anything to get the words down. The editing part is much more rigid though, but it’s also much easier to focus when the words are already there, even if they’re not necessarily in the right order.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I don’t think it’s controversial to suggest the genre has never been more vibrant or diverse, filled with the type of voices we’d never have heard from 20 or 30 years ago. For my part, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel and as a consequence Age of Uprising is a fairly traditional fantasy trilogy, albeit with a slight ‘mage-tech’ spin. I think there’s plenty of room in the market for ‘trad-fantasy’ as well as books that push the boundaries in new and original directions.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
My main focus right now is book two in the Age of Uprising trilogy: Engines of Chaos. It’s drafted and will be going to the editor in February 2022, in preparation for a January 2023 release (yes it really takes that long). As I’ve mentioned, I’m also working on a historical fiction series published by Head of Zeus, book two of which has also gone to edit and should be coming out mid-2022.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
It depends on the person I’m recommending it to and what their tastes are. Not every book is for everyone, even if it’s a classic (just read the 1* reviews of some objective classics). Fantasy readers, for example, might love Sanderson or Abercrombie, and both those writers are giants of the genre. However, stylistically they’re very different and I don’t know many people who would love both. And yes, I’m aware I’ve avoided answering the question.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
One of my biggest regrets is having the opportunity to dress a film-set with Ewan McGregor (before he was famous) but I was away at university so missed out. It’s one of my many “I almost met this famous person” stories.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
First and foremost, finishing the writing of Engines of War, book three in the Age of Uprising series. It’ll at least give me a chance to have a bit of a breather. Beyond that, I’m looking forward to Engines of Empire being a huge hit, and ultimately securing a TV deal – perhaps an aspiration too far, but I guess a man can dream.
A sweeping tale of clashing guilds, magic-fueled machines, and revolution.
The nation of Torwyn is run on the power of industry, and industry is run by the Guilds. Chief among them are the Hawkspurs, whose responsibility it is to keep the gears of the empire turning. That’s exactly why matriarch Rosomon Hawkspur sends each of her heirs to the far reaches of the nation.
Conall, the eldest son, is sent to the distant frontier to earn his stripes in the military. It is here that he faces a threat he could have never seen coming: the first rumblings of revolution.
Tyreta is a sorceress with the ability to channel the power of pyrestone, the magical resource that fuels the empire’s machines. She is sent to the mines to learn more about how pyrsetone is harvested — but instead, she finds the dark horrors of industry that the empire would prefer to keep hidden.
The youngest, Fulren, is a talented artificer and finds himself acting as a guide to a mysterious foreign emissary. Soon after, he is framed for a crime he never committed. A crime that could start a war.
As the Hawkspurs grapple with the many threats that face the nation within and without, they must finally prove themselves worthy — or their empire will fall apart.