The Memory in the Blood is the pulse-pounding conclusion to Ryan Van Loan’s The Fall of the Gods series, featuring sea battles, hidden libraries, warring deities, old enemies, and one woman’s desire for liberation and revenge.
When her quest to destroy the Gods began, Buc was a child of the streets. Now she is a woman of steel, shaped by gaining and losing power, tempered by love and betrayal, and honed to a fine edge by grief and her desire for vengeance.
A perilous, clandestine mission to a hidden library uncovers information that is key to destroying both the Dead Gods and their enemy, the Goddess Ciris. Ciris’s creation, Sin, who lives inside Buc, gives her superhuman abilities and tempts her with hints of even greater power. With that power, she could achieve almost anything—end the religious war tearing her world apart, remake society at a stroke—but the price would be the betrayal of everything she has fought for . . . and the man she loved would still be dead.
In the middle of this murderous, magical maelstrom, a coded message smuggled out of the heart of the Dead Gods’ cathedral reveals that the Dead Gods intend to destroy Ciris—and much of the world with her.
This. Will. Not. Stand.
If Buc has to destroy all Gods, eat the rich, and break the world’s economy to save the people, she will do it. Even if it costs her everything.
There’s a reason why I love stories spanning a series
I cut my (reading) teeth on series stories as a child. The first books I binge-read, hiding under the covers, flashlight in hand, around the age of six or so was Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children. The Chronicles of Narnia soon followed and hot on Aslan’s heels came The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, Redwall, and many, many more. I’m not sure if I found fantasy because it tends to tell stories over multiple books or if genre would have grabbed me no matter what, but I do know that being able to spend not just hundreds, but thousands of pageswith characters I grew to love and root for was a life-changing experience. I think, as fans of the genre, that immersion factor is a large part of the allure that keeps us coming back to the page. As a reader, I’m no different than you all, but what I wasn’t prepared for, was how that would translate to the other side of the page–the one where I’m sitting pen in hand (actually hands on keyboard).
Let me tell you, folks, it’s every bit as EPIC a feeling when you’ve written a series as it is when you’re reading one. And then some. Last time I was on Chuck’s blog, I talked about how difficult writing my first sequel was. I’d written nearly a dozen books, but The Justice in Revenge was my first sequel. Similarly, The Memory in the Blood was my first concluding finale to a series. Writing that final book had its challenges, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult to write as Justice was. I think that’s partially because middle books are always tricksy things–juggling tension and stakes while everyone understands another book is coming isn’t for the faint of heart. But really, it was easier because I knew the characters so well and I’d envisioned this ending for five or six years at this point…I was writing scenes that had lived in my head so long that they just flew from my fingertips. The thrill of tying a plot point or a character arc back to something we saw in book one, the rush of the series-ending climactic action, the stand up and cheer moments, the “why did you have to do that, you asshole?” scenes? Epic, friends, epic.
Books can save readers, but sometimes they can save authors, too
I talked about the epic feels, but I didn’t tell you about the backdrop. I wrote The Memory in the Blood the summer of 2020. The summer of lockdown. The summer where, for the first time, it looked like America was prepared to say aloud: Black Lives Matter. All of us were in a dark place; how could we not be? My day job is in healthcare (I’m not clinical, but I run an innovation office that builds/deploys apps into the clinical space…we partner with clinicians and patients all the time) and by summer the entire system was burnt out from transitioning to work from home with no boundaries, working weekends trying to prep for, and then deal with the oncoming Covid wave, and there truly seemed no end in sight. But my other job, as an author, wasn’t letting off the gas, either. My debut, The Sin in the Steel, was launching in July. I was doing promo for that, including essays like this one plus virtual conventions, podcasts, and virtual bookstore appearances. Oh, and I was wrapping up edits on book 2. So, you can imagine how I might have felt a little bit overloaded when I sat down with a blank screen and a blinking cursor and typed the first word (Rage) of a book that I had to deliver by summer’s end. Except, as the word turned into a paragraph that turned into a page that turned into a chapter…all that weight lifted off me.
I was transported.
That doesn’t mean it was easy (more on that later), I had to put in the work, but when I sat down in front of the computer at the end of a long day, the hour or two (or sometimes four) let me forget the fucked up world, gave me respite from the storm. But that’s not quite true. Because I didn’t forget the world. The Fall of the Gods series is about corrupt, seemingly all powerful trading companies, where coin buys power and the chance to whisper in the ears of Empresses, a world where omnipotent Gods demand the worship of their followers in return for survival. Map some of those fantastical elements onto our own and…no I never forgot. The beauty of the page, the magic of a story, is that it allows us to imagine new opportunities, new possibilities. I didn’t forget the world, I just imagined a new one. One in which a streetrat turned detective could grow to realize it takes more than a single person to change the course of the world, it takes a ragtag band of found family, it takes a movement.
I was flirting with burnout and nihilism going into The Memory in the Blood and I came out the other side, a full three weeks ahead of schedule, rejuvenated and filled with hope. That’s the magic of the written word and its one reason among sundry that I’m an inveterate, voracious reader. I suspect that many of you share that trait with me. I knew that writing was a way for me to discover empathy and connection, but I wasn’t prepared (yet again) for how closely the experience of creating could mirror the consuming.
It wasn’t always easy, but it was sustaining, and in the summer of 2020, I don’t know about you, but I needed that.
Landing the plane is hard
Earlier I said that writing the sequel was harder than writing the finale and that’s true, but landing the series was no joke. If you’ve stuck with me for three books across nearly 400,000 words I want to make sure you’re walking away feeling changed, moved, rewarded. It’s what I want as a reader. So, Dear Reader, believe me when I say that I had you very much in mind when I was considering how the ending resolved itself. That’s the thing about endings, unless you’re going with the Narnian end of world and now we’re all happy forever scenario, you don’t want them to just…end? You want them to feel resolved, yes, but also like tomorrow is a new day and those characters (that survive…gulp!) you’ve spent so much time with are going to get up and jump into their next adventure. This is where having an ace team behind the scenes really comes in handy. By the time the book is in your hands, a dozen eyes have been on it, a dozen hands helping guide the yoke. All of that helps, but as I crept ever closer to those final two words a writer hopes to see (but never truly believes they will): the end; it wasn’t easy. Besides, I’m a fantasy writer. The book never ends with ‘The End’; it ends with the epilogue. But if you’ve stayed with me that far, across a thousand pages, sailing azure seas in magical gear-wrought ships while Buc fought pirate queens and mages, the undead and the Gods themselves, while the fate of the world balanced on the tip of a former streetrat’s blade and wits? I don’t think you’re going to be disappointed.
I know I wasn’t.
Saying goodbye is harder (ennui)
Early on in my career, an established author told me the story of Mr. Earbass Writes a Novel. Written by Edward Gorey back in the 1950’s, it’s a funny little book that follows an author (Mr. Earbass) through illustrations and short paragraphs as he goes through the novel writing process. It is funny, because its portrayals of Mr. Earbass are often like looking through a mirror, darkly. Mr. Earbass seems continually exhausted by the whole process, yet unable to stop trying. I wasn’t familiar with that sensation before I began this series and became a published author. But I am now.
There’s a feeling you get when you reach the end of a novel. There’s a momentary exhilaration as you realize that you’ve once more braved crossing the Atlantic in a bathtub (as Stephen King puts the novel writing process) and that can hang on for a few days, but inevitably, there comes a period of intense ennui. I almost believe the word ennui was invented by novelists for novelists. You’ve sat with these characters and this world and all of its troubles for months and you’ve had a sense of purpose that took up hours of your day, every day, likely for many more months before you actually began writing…and now? All of that is finished. Yes, yes, there’s revisions to be done, copy edits, proofreading, promotion, etc. etc. but that is a year in the future. If you’re like me, you’re also feeling a little drained creatively and the usual cure (read a good book, watch a good show) falls flat. It can take a week or two to pull yourself out of that funk and begin thinking about the next book.
Finishing this series, I expected ennui, but funnily enough, I didn’t get it. Not right away at least. I felt pretty jazzed, creatively. As the summer of 2020 turned into fall, I began working on a short story, I did copy edits for book two, I was…fine? Until I wasn’t.
In October we went down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We hadn’t left the house since March and we were working from home, so we found a beach rental for two weeks, packed up the dogs, and headed for the coast. Walking along miles of empty beaches, in waters that were once the haunts of famous pirates, I found my ennui. I think I was in denial leading up to then, or maybe I just needed more time to process the fact that I was effectively done with Buc and Eld and this complex world I’d created. It was a world that had lived vibrantly in my mind since 2015 and in finishing the story, I was also saying goodbye. Books are wondrous things, friends. They’re one of the few forms of magic gifted to us mortals. That last bit may sound maudlin, but it’s not. Books can save lives, start movements, allow the voice of a person two thousand years dead to speak to you. If that’s not magic, what is? I don’t fancy that my little adventure fantasy with heart series is going to do any of the former, but it’s got a little magic all of its own.
There’s more to come.
That’s it. That’s what I realized on the other side of this series. I love telling stories and I love sharing them with fellow readers. I’m less enthralled with the business aspects and lack of control (or rationality) the publishing industry seems to offer (see the link earlier to last year’s essay I wrote on Chuck’s blog), but I think I can manage, if this is the result. I’ve got loads more ideas. I have a near-future sci-fi/fantasy middle grade novel about a young boy who travels to an AI realm and teams up with a broken robot dog to take on the AI queens to return home. But first up is a fantasy series about a post-apocalyptic society trying to rebuild from the ashes, featuring a group of rune-wielding mages who have to stop one of their own from destroying the world they’ve been trying to rekindle. Standing in their path are fae-like empires who want to see humanity destroyed and upstart Gods who only want to rule…and a mystery tied to their world’s apocalypse that may rewrite everything they thought they knew.
Like I said, more to come, Dear Reader, and I hope you’ll join me on this next journey. Until then, we’ll always have The Fall of the Gods series.
Ryan Van Loan is a Fantasy author who served six years as a Sergeant in the United States Army Infantry (PA National Guard) where he served on the front lines of Afghanistan. His work has appeared in numerous places including Tor.com, Fireside Magazine, Crime Reads and many more. His debut novel, The Sin in the Steel (Tor Books), Book One in the Fall of the Gods series came out in Summer 2020, the sequel, The Justice in Revenge followed in Summer, 2021, and the conclusion to the series, The Memory in the Blood drops July 12th, 2022.