Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!
Today I get the treat of speaking to one of the huge rising stars in grimdark fantasy, Zamil Akthar! Zamil’s currently published works include: Death Rider; Gunmetal Gods; Conqueror’s Blood, and Lightblade.
P.L.: So honoured to be able to interview you, Zamil, for Six Elementals Interviews! Gunmetal Gods was one of the first books I read in 2022. I know it may sound premature (being VERY early in 2022), but I predict it will make my list of top ten books of the year! It was simply fantastic! It’s getting a lot of buzz, including earning you a semi-finals berth in the recent Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO 7). Congratulations! One of the truly engaging aspects of your book, for me, was your incredible characterization. I was riveted by the stories of the main POVs, Kevah and Micah. They were so well-drawn. Many authors, I’ve found, have a little bit of themselves placed inside their principal characters. Is there a little bit of your personality or traits, in either Kevah and Micah, or in any other characters in the book? Can you tell us about that please?
Zamil: I feel all the doubts of my characters more acutely than any other emotion. I am rarely as motivated as they are, but when it’s time to write about how much they are second-guessing themselves, how much they just want to run away and escape, that’s when my own inner voice takes over. I’ve never been sure of my path in life and have changed paths more times than I can count. For example, I used to work in Marketing, then I taught English for a while, then I switched to working for NGOs, then I went into real estate, and now I’m a semi full-time writer! I’ve also moved around a lot, not just in country, but across the world. So when Kevah decided to walk away from everything, move hundreds of miles from home, and become a blacksmith, I knew I was writing about myself.
P.L.: It’s always so incredible when authors put a part of themselves in their work, and I believe it truly adds something special to a book. Religious fervor, religious intolerance, spirituality, mysticism, apathy or outright animosity towards the clergy and the structure that surrounds organized religions, capricious gods, these are just some of the compelling themes in Gunmetal Gods. Can you speak to the significance of these topics surrounding spirituality and religion in your book?
Zamil: Every character in the book has a unique approach to faith. Micah loves his faith and finds beauty in it, but also hates the hypocrisy of the clergy, and hates even more the hypocrisy he sometimes notices in his own heart. Kevah, meanwhile, turns to faith to give meaning and poetic expression to his sorrows, but in the same breath curses God for not answering his prayers. Despite the nuances, they’re both swept up in these zealous tides, fighting on behalf of countries that are trying to expand or defend their respective territories in the name of religion. They are expected to put aside their personal feelings toward the divine and follow the rigors of organized religion, but being headstrong, they both chafe at this. Micah, in particular, prefers to remake things in his own grand image, guided by his personal ideas of faith, rather than toe the line that the priests have set out.
Anyone who has spent considerable time in a church, mosque, or temple will know that people practice and think about faith very differently even within the same sect, despite what the priest or imam at the pulpit is saying. One of the most interesting things about faith are its varieties of expression. But when people of faith line up against each other to do battle, which is what Gunmetal Gods is about, variety is exactly what each side is trying to destroy.
P.L.: Religion is such a fascinating topic, especially when considering the overall human condition. I found your book to be gritty, extremely realistic, fascinating, and dark! There are some challenging scenes in the book that were brilliantly done, handled with appropriate care, that I don’t doubt were difficult to write! How do you cope with writing heart-wrenching scenes, and why did you think it was important to have these types of scenes in your book?
Zamil: I don’t have any difficulty writing utterly horrifying scenes because as the writer I know I’m making it all up! However, most of the bloodiest scenes in Gunmetal Gods are inspired by actual historical events, such as the conquest of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, and it’s not always easy to read some of these accounts, especially when it describes the brutal killing of children.
I wanted my readers to feel this same sense of horror and discomfort from the events of Gunmetal Gods as I did when I read those historical accounts. And not only that, I wanted readers to feel what it would be like to commit such acts of brutality, as well as to be on the receiving end. I wanted readers to wonder if they, given a different circumstance, would be capable of dehumanizing and hurting others.
Ultimately, I wanted to deal with the theme of dehumanization as truthfully as possible, showing the reader things that happened and are still happening, to this day, because of religious extremism or nationalism or plenty of other ideologies where dehumanizing the other side is common. Growing up in the Middle East, I’m all too familiar with seeing people dehumanized in war, and I can’t help but write about the things that weigh upon my heart.
P.L.: Sadly dehumanization takes place in all parts of the world regardless of culture or ethnicity, etc. Yet, speaking of the Middle East, your worldbuilding in Gunmetal Gods is phenomenal. Middle Eastern-inspired, lush, epic. As I said in my Goodreads review of the book, I felt like I was sitting beside Kevah, smelling the pipe smoke, listening to him recite Taqi, savouring a fig. Or on the battlefield, or in a yurt, or a palace, any other setting in your world. What kind of research went into creating such a world, vivid, replete with different cultures, customs, religions, gods, weapons, and everything else that made it so amazing?
Zamil: The worldbuilding was my favorite part of writing this book. It was pretty much a love letter to Middle Eastern history, mythology, and culture. I absolutely wanted the reader to feel immersed like you did, and spent excruciating hours trying to make the world pop and bring it to life. The time I spent researching the history of the Ottoman Empire, for example, were just an absolute joy because I could paint so much of what I learned onto my world. I also think this is what makes Gunmetal Gods unique — the world isn’t drawing from the same references as 99% of fantasy stories; it’s something I custom built, using pieces inspired by different eras and events in Middle Eastern history that I painstakingly researched.
I mostly researched a period in history known as the Gunpowder Empires period, in which three massive empires — the Ottomans, Persian Safavids, and Indian Mughals — dominated their respective spheres with early gunpowder technology, in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was the last time when the Middle East was the most wealthy and powerful region in the world, before Europeans became dominant. So I had to do a lot of research about technology, how governments worked, and how society functioned during this period — very challenging, because many sources haven’t been translated into English. Expanding on the world I built based on this period, and continuing to do research on it, is my primary motivation to write more books in the Gunmetal Gods Series!
P.L.: Well, all your amazing research has definitely paid off! Besides your fantastic Gunmetal Gods Series, can you please speak to any other projects you are working on, or plan to publish?
Zamil: I’m working on Lightblade right now, which is Book 1 of a new progression fantasy series that I’m launching soon. It’s very different from Gunmetal Gods, as the world has more of a science-fantasy and cyberpunk vibe. It’s also not as dark of a tale. The worldbuilding does draw heavy inspiration from Middle Eastern and South Asian history and myths, so I hope my Gunmetal Gods readers will come over!
P.L.: Of that I have no doubt! What are some of the authors that have inspired you? Who are some of your favourite authors?
Zamil: George R. R. Martin, Saladin Ahmed, Arundhati Roy, Haruki Murakami, Cixin Liu. In particular, Saladin Ahmed inspired me because he was the first Middle Eastern author writing about Middle Eastern inspired fantasy worlds that I knew of. He showed me you could succeed doing it, and I’m a huge fan of his short stories and his novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon.
P.L.: Those are some amazing authors! I have a feeling that, without your talent, you will be mentioned in the same breath as those incredible writers one day very soon! Zamil I have truly enjoyed our chat!I truly appreciate you joining me on Six Elementals Interviews! Thank you so much!
Buy Conqueror’s Blood here https://www.amazon.com/Conquerors-Blood-Dark-Fantasy-Gunmetal-ebook/dp/B096Q8LYJ9/ref=sr_1_1?crid=GL644MG6IPCI&keywords=conqueror%27s+blood&qid=1644153724&sprefix=conqueror%27s+blood%2Caps%2C129&sr=8-1
Buy Lightblade here