Please welcome Steve Bein to The Qwillery. Disciple of the Wind, the 3rd Fated Blades novel, is published today by Roc. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Steve a Happy Publication Day!
TQ: Welcome back to The Qwillery. Tell us something about Disciple of the Wind, the 3rd Fated Blades novel, that is not in the book description.
Steve: This is the darkest of the books, but also the one that takes you through the bleakest hours and into the light of dawn. Even as I was writing it, I wasn’t sure who was going to survive this one. One death in particular took me completely by surprise. (Of course I won’t tell you whose.)
I also think it’s the best book of the three. The stakes are highest, the characters are at their most resourceful, and the moral problems are the sharpest. At this point the readers and I know the world and the culture really well, which allows me the freedom to lead us deeper into it.
TQ: You teach philosophy and ethics. In your opinion, should novels be simply entertaining or should they make us think too?
Steve: I don’t think every novel has to be thought provoking, but all of the best ones are. As for myself, I’m out to write the thoughtful thriller. I call my overall project “philosofiction” because I think the best fiction transcends mere entertainment and the best philosophy transcends mere scholarship. Philosophy is bigger than that. It’s for everyone, every day, and fiction can make it accessible. A good story can take you deep into a thought experiment and leave you there for a while. You can steep in it, mull it over, think about it long after you’ve put the book down.
That makes fiction a powerful vehicle for doing the real work of philosophy. I can ask you a bunch of abstract moral questions, or I can make those questions concrete by confronting a protagonist with an agonizing choice. Fiction takes it out of the abstract and makes it visceral.
TQ: How does your experience in philosophy and ethics affect (or not) character development in your novels?
Steve: The books are constructed around moral problems. Given those problems, the characters have to develop in response. So, for example, Daughter of the Sword is really a book about duty. The most important characters, Mariko and Daigoro, are a police detective and a fledgling samurai. Their occupations are quintessentially defined by duty. That’s true of the other POV characters too: two more samurai, an army officer, and a yakuza enforcer. All of these characters are defined by duty, and they’re at their best when I confront them with conflicting duties (family vs. profession, the letter of the law vs. its spirit, etc.).
The second book, Year of the Demon, is about sacrifice. Would you kill one family member to spare the rest? Should a cop suspend the constitution to make an important arrest? Should a daughter abandon her entire family in order to save it? There again, the principal characters transform in response to the moral quandaries I’ve mire them in.
In Disciple of the Wind, what’s at issue is the uncrossable line. Mariko might be able to stop a terrorist, but only if she betrays her badge. Daigoro can fight dishonor with dishonor, or he can hold firm to bushidō and lose everything. The same moral problems about duty arise, but this time with sharper teeth. The opportunities for sacrifice reappear, but this time at a greater cost.
TQ: Does your experience in philosophy also affect your world-building?
Steve: Yes, but in a more subtle way. I’ve set these books in Japan because Japan is fascinating to me, and I specialized in Japanese philosophy for the same reason. Some of the most fascinating aspects of the culture are summed up in aesthetic principles like mono no aware (the sad beauty to be found in fragility and mortality) and wabi sabi (the austere beauty to be found in the imperfect and the impermanent). Both of those concepts are far more complex than the rude translations I’ve just offered, but the novels provide the opportunity to express them in greater depth. They inform the world-building through and through, even though I never mention mono no aware or wabi sabi anywhere in the books. I think they’re a big part of how I create a world that’s distinctly Japanese.
TQ: Would you say that the Fated Blades series is character or plot driven? Explain.
Steve: The series is plot driven but the plots are character driven. By that I mean the story arcs couldn’t have developed the same way with any other characters. It matters that Mariko is an alien in her own land, and that she’s a woman in a male-dominated profession, and that she’s a skeptic, and that her moral compass leads her to be headstrong. If any of those things were to change, her entire storyline would change.
Similarly, it matters that Daigoro isn’t the swordsman he wants to be, isn’t the samurai he wants to be, isn’t the man he wants to be. I can’t tell his story if he’s not stuck in his father’s shadow. In Streaming Dawn, Kaida lives in a similar shadow: she’s a phenomenal talent but she’s occluded by her sensei’s legacy. She’s always deriding herself, never as strong or as quick as she feels she needs to be. If Daigoro and Kaida were capable of seeing their own strengths, their stories would have veered off in entirely new directions.
TQ: How much of your martial arts training shows up in your novels?
Steve: All and none. (Sorry to keep giving you Yoda answers!) There’s a delicate balance to strike. The fights aren’t just there for the action; they’re part of the world-building, a way of understanding this particular aspect of the world through this particular character. They have to feel real, and sometimes that means naming a technique or a weapon or a stance—that is, using the terms that character would use. But lean too far in that direction and you end up drowning readers in jargon.
The same is true of the training sequences. In these books martial practice is an essential part of character development. Sometimes that means naming techniques and styles and so on—but again, not too much. Mariko, Daigoro, and Kaida approach swordsmanship completely differently. Mariko is new to the art, Daigoro was born into it, and Kaida’s skills have become so sublime that she’s almost contemptuous of it. Mariko gets more jargon, the other two very little, because Mariko is closest to the reader’s perspective. The words are strange to her too.
That’s what I mean by all and none. Martial art pervades these books, but the purpose is to give insight into the world and the characters. (And yes, also to entertain. I like a kick-ass fight scene as much as the next guy.) I can talk martial trivia and martial philosophy all day long, but I keep all of that out of the novels.
TQ: In a prior interview, I asked you “What is the most challenging thing about writing your female main character, Mariko Oshiro?” You wrote, in part, that “Everything about Mariko is hard.” Is she still difficult to write? How has she changed over the course of the 3 novels? How have you changed from writing her?
Steve: Wow. That’s a tough question. Yes, she’s still difficult, but either I’ve tamed her a bit or else she’s tamed me. The interviews and research I’ve conducted in these books seem to have seeped in deeper than I’d expected, because now when I consult my police resources for dialogue coaching, they tell me the dialogue already sounds like copspeak. I’ve also gotten better at asking them the right questions, and better at seeing which follow-up questions I need to ask. I think internalizing that mindset has helped me get to know Mariko in a much more intimate way.
It’s a little disconcerting, discovering that you suddenly know how to think like a cop. When everything went down in Ferguson last year, the first thing I did was call my cop buddy to ask him what isn’t making the news. That’s a pretty weird response to that kind of tragedy. But one of the important relationships in Disciple of the Wind is the uneasy partnership between law enforcement and the news media, so it’s been front and center in my mind for a while—including, it seems, my subconscious mind, because otherwise my thoughts wouldn’t have followed that strange path.
TQ: What’s uneasy about the relationship between the police and the news media in Japan? Is that relationship different there than in the US?
Steve: Yes, quite different. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department has a media liaison, and that person gets to tell reporters what to write. So, for example, yakuza groups in Japan refer to themselves ninkyō dantai (“chivalrous organizations”) but reporters are instructed by the police to refer to them as bōryokudan (“violent crime organizations”). What’s bizarre to me is that the reporters actually do as they’re told. It’s understood as part of the quid pro quo. “You want us to give you something to write? Then write it the way we tell you to.”
TQ: Which question about Disciple of the Wind do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Steve: The most pressing question is probably, “Where’s Kaida?” She was a fan favorite of Year of the Demon, and a favorite of mine too. Like Demon, Disciple of the Wind was originally three storylines: Mariko the cop, Daigoro the samurai, Kaida the pearl diver. But Disciple came in overweight, and rather than cut a lot of good stuff from all three storylines, my editor and I made the hard decision to remove one of the characters entirely. Kaida was the natural choice, because her story was the most independent.
So now you can catch up with her in Streaming Dawn. Extricating her from the novel turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because now I’ve been able to flesh out her story and her character in greater detail. We also get to know Daigoro’s father in that story, as well as his future nemesis, which is pretty cool.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Disciple of the Wind.
Steve: This book includes the longest sentence I’ve ever put in print, and I had a lot of fun writing it. The only background information you need to know is that Mariko is heading out for a covert assignment, she anticipates being searched, and the Cheetah and the Pikachu are both weapons of hers.
The order of events was eat; shower; change; find favorite purse for undercover work; find cigarette case used for undercover work; hide Pikachu in cigarette case; hide Cheetah in purse’s concealed pocket; toss cigarette case, cigarette lighter, tampons, gum, wallet, phone, keys, pepper spray, peppermints, compact, pack of tissues, second pack of tissues, little detective’s notebook, pen, lipstick, lip balm, hand towel, hand lotion, hand sanitizer, and boot knife in the purse, all in plain sight; and go downstairs.
TQ: What’s next?
Steve: My elevator pitch for the next project is “samurai cowboys versus space invaders.” It’s steampunk versus cyberpunk, with Neo-Bushido on one side and high-tech Arthurian legend on the other.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Steve: Thank you so much! And many mahalos to your readers too.
Disciple of the Wind
The Fated Blades 3
Roc Trade, April 7, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 528 pages
When Tokyo falls victim to a deadly terrorist attack, Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro knows who is responsible, even if she doesn’t have proof. She urges her commanding officers to arrest the perpetrator—an insane zealot who was just released from police custody. When her pleas fall on deaf ears, she loses her temper and then her badge, as well as her best chance of fighting back.
Left on her own, and armed with only her cunning and her famed Inazuma blade, Mariko must work outside the system to stop a terrorist mastermind. But going rogue draws the attention of an underground syndicate known as the Wind. For centuries, they have controlled Japanese politics from the shadows, using mystical relics to achieve their nefarious ends—relics like Mariko’s own sword and the iron demon mask whose evil curse is bound to the blade. Now the Wind is set on acquiring Mariko.
Mariko is left with a perilous choice: Join an illicit insurgency to thwart a deadly villain, or remain true to the law. Either way, she cannot escape her sword’s curse. As sure as the blade will bring her to victory, it also promises to destroy her….
Streaming Dawn: A Story of the Fated Blades
Steve Bein, March 7, 2015
eBook, 89 pages
The riveting story of a legendary magic sword, two rivals for a seat in a warlord's court, and a ninja who must use her own magic blade to complete her mission and keep herself alive. Brimming with rich historical details, Streaming Dawn places the reader deep into ancient Japan, when warriors fought with deadly sharp weapons - and even sharper wits - in their quests for power.
Lord Itsumi Akiyama is in trouble. He was a conspirator in the murder of Oda Nobunaga, Japan's most powerful warlord in 1582. Worse, he is responsible for the death of a disciple of the Wind, Japan’s deadliest ninja clan. Enter Kaida, the Wind’s most dangerous agent. She seeks to avenge her fallen protégé, but there is a complication: once she kills Akiyama, the Wind must figure out how to replace him. He occupies a key position in the inner circle of Oda’s successor, Hashiba Hideyoshi, who is set to conquer all of Japan. The Wind wants a puppet next to Hideyoshi, and Kaida is tasked with putting that puppet in place.
Kaida resents her assignment. The chosen puppet is Itsumi Kyusaku, brother and successor to Akiyama. Kyusaku took part in the murder of Kaida’s protégé, and so Kaida wants him dead. But his only rival for the position in Hideyoshi’s council is Okuma Tetsurō, a samurai with a bounty on his head—a bounty placed by the Wind. Kaida respects Okuma and has no desire to kill him. Moreover, she’s not even sure she can. His sword, Glorious Victory Unsought, is a legendary Inazuma blade. With it, Okuma is undefeatable.
But Kaida has a blade of her own. Streaming Dawn can fend off death itself, though at a bitter cost. It might even defend her from Glorious Victory Unsought, if she and Okuma should cross swords. So armed, she takes on the most difficult mission of her career. She cannot allow Kyusaku to come to power, but if she allows Okuma to rise in his stead, it will be Kaida’s head on the chopping block.
Since she cannot choose Kyusaku and she cannot choose Okuma, Kaida has no choice but to do what she does best: achieve the impossible, proving herself once again to be the Wind’s canniest, deadliest ninja.
This companion novella to the Fated Blades series finds beloved characters from those novels in a new and dangerous adventure set in medieval Japan. Bein's talent for combining rich historic detail with powerful action and magic is yet again on display in this intriguing historical fantasy read. Fans of the Fated Blades series will enjoy revisiting their favorite characters, and for those new to the series, it's the perfect place to dive into centuries of intrigue, magic, honor, and swordplay.
Only a Shadow
The Fated Blades eNovella
Roc, September 4, 2012
eBook, 59 pages
The author of Daughter of the Sword takes readers to feudal Japan, where men and empires rise and fall by the sword…
The Tiger on the Mountain is a legendary blade, crafted by the master sword smith Inazuma, and reputed to possess magical powers. In 1442 Japan, the sword dwells inside the impregnable fortress of Hirata Nobushige, the enemy of the Iga clan.
Venerable shinobi Jujiro has recruited the brave young ninja Tada to steal the sword and restore power to the Iga clan. If Tada is successful, he’ll go from being the clan’s orphaned ward to a legend for the ages—and he’ll be able to ask for Old Jujiro’s granddaughter’s hand in marriage. If he fails, the clan will be annihilated.
Getting inside the castle is next to impossible—getting out is inconceivable. But as Tada prepares himself for one of the boldest thefts in history, the greatest obstacle he faces may just prove to be himself…
Don’t miss Daughter of the Sword, the first Novel of the Fated Blades!
Daughter of the Sword
The Fated Blades 1
Roc, October 2, 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
Mass Market Paperback (September 3, 2013), 464 pages
As the only female detective in Tokyo’s most elite police unit, Mariko Oshiro has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. But when he gives her the least promising case possible—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—it proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined.
The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it.
Mariko’s investigation has put her on a collision course with a curse centuries old and as bloodthirsty as ever. She is only the latest in a long line of warriors and soldiers to confront this power, and even the sword she learns to wield could turn against her.
Year of the Demon
The Fated Blades 2
Roc Trade, October 1, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
Mass Market Paperback (September 2, 2014), 528 pages
A MASK OF DESTRUCTION
Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro has been promoted to Japan’s elite Narcotics unit—and with this promotion comes a new partner, a new case, and new danger. The underboss of a powerful yakuza crime syndicate has put a price on her head, and he’ll lift the bounty only if she retrieves an ancient iron demon mask that was stolen from him in a daring raid. However, Mariko has no idea of the tumultuous past carried within the mask—or of its deadly link with the famed Inazuma blade she wields.
The secret of this mask originated hundreds of years before Mariko was born, and over time the mask’s power has evolved to bend its owner toward destruction, stopping at nothing to obtain Inazuma steel. Mariko’s fallen sensei knew much of the mask’s hypnotic power and of its mysterious link to a murderous cult. Now Mariko must use his notes to find the mask before the cult can bring Tokyo to its knees—and before the underboss decides her time is up....
Steve Bein (pronounced "Bine") is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, martial artist, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov's, Interzone, Writers of the Future, and in international translation. His first novel, Daughter of the Sword, was met with critical acclaim, and his second novel, Year of the Demon, was named one of the top five fantasy novels of 2013 by Library Journal. His newest book, Disciple of the Wind is in stores now, and his new novella, Streaming Dawn, is available now for your e-reader. You can find his work at Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Audible.