A Journey into Sebastien de Castell’s Fantasy Universe

From Swordfights to Sorcery, An Exclusive Exploration of Storytelling, Mysteries, and the Heroic Heartbeat of the Court of Shadows Series

Sebastien de Castell, the mastermind behind captivating realms and fantastical adventures, shares a moment of creative insight during an exclusive interview with Reader’s House magazine.

In the enchanting realm of fantasy literature, where swashbuckling adventures and mystical tales come to life, few authors captivate readers with the finesse and imagination exhibited by Sebastien de Castell. Renowned for his acclaimed series such as The Greatcoats and Spellslinger, de Castell has carved a niche for himself in the hearts of fantasy enthusiasts worldwide.

In this exclusive interview with Reader’s House magazine, we delve into the creative mind of Sebastien de Castell, exploring the journey that led him from the pages of Keith Taylor’s “Bard” on a pier at the age of sixteen to becoming a celebrated author weaving tales of magic, mystery, and heroic deeds. De Castell reflects on the transformative power of storytelling, highlighting the fine line between misfortune and adventure and how his experiences, including a surreal encounter with severe kidney stones in Cambodia, have shaped his perspective.

The interview unveils the fascinating milestones and peculiar challenges of de Castell’s first decade as a novelist, from unexpected book bans to Hollywood debates on the nature of a fictional creature. His candid anecdotes offer readers a glimpse into the unpredictable and often humorous world of a bestselling author.

Acknowledgments and awards have peppered de Castell’s literary journey, but as he humbly shares, the true honor lies in the connection with readers. We explore how these acknowledgments impact his approach to writing, with a special nod to a Centurion Award that holds a cherished place in his heart.

Beyond the realm of writing, de Castell’s eclectic pursuits include live music performances, including gigs with a Beatles tribute band. Discover how his musical endeavors intertwine with his writing, providing a rhythm that influences the cadence of his prose, particularly in action-packed scenes.

Delving into de Castell’s philosophical perspective as an existentialist humanist stoic, we uncover how these beliefs shape the themes and characters in his novels, elevating them beyond conventional morality into nuanced, human experiences.

The interview also unveils the inspiration behind de Castell’s latest venture, the Court of Shadows series, marked by the debut novel “Crucible of Chaos.” From the creation of the enigmatic Estevar Borros to the development of the mystical Isola Sombra, readers are treated to insights into the world-building process that enriches the mystery and fantasy elements of this standalone yet interconnected series.

And, of course, no exploration of de Castell’s works would be complete without a nod to the most heroic mule ever to grace the pages of literature – Imperious. Discover how this unexpected character became an integral part of Estevar’s investigative journey and the overall narrative of “Crucible of Chaos.”

As readers prepare to immerse themselves in the swashbuckling fantasy world of Sebastien de Castell’s Court of Shadows series, the interview concludes with a sneak peek into the author’s unique approach to crafting standalone novels with series potential. De Castell shares his ambitious vision of creating a series of linked standalones, offering readers the freedom to pick up any installment without the pressure of a predetermined reading order.

Join us in this literary odyssey as Sebastien de Castell opens the door to his fantastical realms, inviting readers to explore the magic, mystery, and adventure that await within the pages of his captivating novels.

You mentioned reading “Bard” by Keith Taylor on a pier when you were sixteen. How did that experience shape your love for storytelling and lead you to become a writer? Are there any specific elements from that book that stayed with you throughout your career?

Bard is the book that made me realize that a life of adventure is also one of storytelling. In a sense, what makes something “adventurous” isn’t the series of events or journey itself but the story we tell ourselves along the way. Think of it this way: what is the difference between a misfortune and an adventure? You’re out on a long road trip and your car breaks down in the middle of a desert, miles from civilization. Are you suffering ill-fortune or beginning an adventure? Some might answer, “Well, it depends what happens next”, but in my experience it’s all about how you approach the rest of that journey.

I was in Cambodia on a cycling trip a few years ago when I got hit with severe kidney stones. That set off a series of mishaps ranging from being rushed to a Cambodian hospital in a tuk-tuk (a kind of rickshaw pulled by a motorbike) to being on stage weeks later on Christmas Eve playing in a rock band while an unexpected post-operative infection sent me into a raging fever. All of that could have felt like some calamitous misfortune, but I’d decided at the outset to treat it as an adventure, and it was! Remember, adventures aren’t just finding magic swords and bags of treasure; they’re full of dark forests and hidden dangers that lead to seemingly inevitable catastrophes.

Reading Keith Taylor’s wonderful fantasy novel, Bard, offered me that first inkling that adventure and fantasy are just escapes from our mundane world, but tools with which to re-enchant our lives.

Your journey from Traitor’s Blade in 2014 to the completion of the Greatcoats Quartet and the Spellslinger YA fantasy series has been remarkable. Can you share some key milestones or challenges you faced during this period, and how they influenced your writing?

I’ve been contemplating writing a book about all the unexpected and sometimes bizarre twists and turns of my first ten years as a novelist, because nothing I’d ever read about being an author prepared me for what came next. Here are just a few odd tid-bits of my first decade in this strange world of publishing:

  • Receiving a notice from the Nevada State Board of Corrections that they had banned Traitor’s Blade from all their prisons for “excessive violence” due to the number of swordfights in the novel. I replied to the notice with my own letter promising that my next book, “How to Stage a Successful Prison Break” would have no swordfights whatsoever. As of today, the Nevada State Board of Corrections has yet to reply.
  • The transatlantic between my literary representatives, my publisher and a Hollywood film agent during which we debated for hours what kind of mammal Reichis could be in Spellslinger because various international markets had issues with just about every animal we could imagine.
  • Meeting George R.R. Martin for the first time and having just about the most awkward two-minute conversation imaginable. I still haven’t quite lived down the shame. I’m pretty sure George forgot about it seconds later.
  • Having Soulbinder, the fourth Spellslinger book end up shrinkwrapped with an 18+ sticker on it in Russia despite it being a young adult fantasy with a talking squirrel cat in it because there happened to be a gay character who wasn’t a villain in the story. This was due to Russia’s notorious “Anti-Western Propaganda” law. The weird part was that as a result of the 18+ sticker and shrinkwrapping making the book seem “forbidden”, it sold so well that my Russian publishers immediately bought the rest of the series.
  • Oh, and the strangest one of all was when— Nah, I think I’ll save that one for the book!

You’ve been nominated for and received several awards, including the Centurion Award for Best Novel in the UK. How do these acknowledgments impact your approach to writing, and is there a particular award or recognition that holds a special place in your heart?

Actually, my track record for losing awards is almost unbroken. However, as the old saying goes, it really is an honour just to be nominated. The nice thing is that some of the awards I have won included an award voted on by school kids for their favourite fantasy novel. I’ll always be grateful for that Centurion Award. Also, they sent me a lovely glass plate.

In addition to being an accomplished author, you’re also involved in live music, including performances with a Beatles tribute band. How do your musical pursuits complement your writing, and do you find inspiration crossing over between these two creative outlets?

Live music is such a rush: it gives you a sense of movement and pacing that can inform writing fiction in multiple ways. Often I’ll build a chapter in a novel around a particular song that acts as the sountrack to that scene. I do this a lot with action scenes because having that song in my head inspires a cadence for the prose, a kind of rhythm that sets the varying lengths of sentences and makes the entire piece feel more thrilling for me to write – and hopefully for readers to enjoy.

You describe yourself as an existentialist humanist stoic. How does this philosophical perspective influence the themes and characters in your novels? Are there specific instances where your beliefs have directly shaped the narrative of your stories?

Existentialism is at the core of how I make sense of life. The simple version is that it posits that there’s no provable meaning to the universe, but that since conscius beings can’t live without a sense of meaning, it’s up to each of us to define what’s meaningful and live authentically to those principles. So, it’s perfectly fine to value wealth and status if you want, but if you choose instead to find meaning in, say, adventure and romance, then you have to measure your existence by how much adventure and romance you fill it with rather than complaining about wishing you had more money or were more famous.

Often genre books tend to operate from a single frame of morality in which the hero exemplifies those moral positions and the villain opposes them. But if you instead ask what earnestly held principles – what sources of meaning – drive the villain, those characters start to feel more human, and for me, much easier to write.

You’ve mentioned that Q&A sessions are the most illuminating part of speaking engagements. Can you share a memorable or insightful question from a fan that left a lasting impression on you, and how it might have influenced your approach to storytelling or your connection with your readers?

I once had a moment at an event in Denmark where the crowd was really lovely and seemed almost enthralled by everything I was saying, and I suddenly had this sense that my performance playing the “suave, witty author” was being tied inextricably to my books – as if my author persona was somehow bound to my ability to write a good story. But not everyone is gregarious, and sometimes the people will the best stories to tell are incredibly shy. I didn’t like the idea that any of those people might be watching and thinking that they must not be real writers because they weren’t sufficiently extroverted. So, I suggested to the audience that I was not, in fact, Sebastien de Castell. The real Sebastien de Castell is incredibly shy and reclusive, and so hired me, an actor, to go out and pretend to be him on book tours. There was a smattering of nervous laughter and then people staring at me anxiously while others tried to google “The real Sebastien de Castell”.

So, beware of being star-struck by your favourite authors; they might just be imposters.

The court of shadows series seems to be a departure from your previous works like greatcoats and spellslinger. What inspired you to delve into a swashbuckling fantasy mystery with crucible of chaos, and how does it set the tone for the court of shadows series?

I’ve always had a fondness for mysteries, and since my Greatcoats are, in fact, swashbuckling travelling magistrates modelled in part on 12th Century English justices itinerant and partially on the French tradition of investigating judges, it was only a matter of time before I started writing Greatcoat mysteries. Also, in the main series, Facio val Mond is well known for hating magic, so he’d never get involved in anything supernatural. Thus was born Estevar Valejan Duerisi Borros, the King’s Crucible: a travelling magistrate sent to investigate crimes involving witches, demons and things that go bump in the night.

The synopsis mentions estevar borros, a legendary sword-fighting magistrate known as a greatcoat. How did you develop the character of estevar, and what challenges did you face in portraying a mortally wounded protagonist in the midst of such a complex and chaotic setting?

Estevar first came to me in a novelette called Dance of the Chamberlain. I literally began with nothing but a corpse that appeared to be dancing from a noose inside a palace ballroom. I had no idea why or who should investigate, so I asked myself what sort of character would I most like to follow along with as they interrogated the witnesses and unveiled clues as to what was happening. It turned out the detective I most wanted to assist was Estevar Borros, the King’s Crucible, a heavy-set foreigner who never cared whether a crime was committed by supernatural means or mundane ones, only who did it and why. I’ve delighted in being his anonymous sidekick ever since!

The story involves an ancient abbey where the monks are going mad, and there are rumors of a new pantheon arising. Can you tell us about the world-building process behind isola sombra and how you approached creating a setting that enhances the mystery and fantasy elements of the novel?

I spent a very strange night walking the streets, alleys and graveyard of Mont St. Michel in France: a tiny island monastery separated from the mainland that used to become impassable at high tides. That rather magical place, which inspired the isle of Isola Sombra and it’s gothic setting, was the impetus for writing Crucible of Chaos. There’s something about places that are periodically cut off from the rest of society that gives them an otherworldly quality – as if they might suddenly become entirely different places during those moments of isolation. The feelings brought up by my midnight wanderings through Mont St. Michel became the impetus for both the architecture of Isola Sombra and the events plaguing its fractious monks.

Imperious, the ornery mule, is described as the most heroic mule ever to appear in print. How did this character come to be, and what role does imperious play in estevar’s journey and the overall narrative of crucible of chaos?

Ah, Imperious, most valliant of beasts! Honestly, he began as nothing but a cantakerous mule for Estevar to complain about as the two rode towards the causeway leading to Isola Sombra. But somehow, Imperious kept popping his head up at opportune moments, and Estevar’s reactions to him – as if Imperious were a trusted investigative colleague rather than a mule – were so enjoyable to me that he became an essential part of the book.

Crucible of chaos is described as both a stand-alone fantasy novel and a prelude to play of shadows. How did you balance crafting a self-contained story while also setting the stage for the larger court of shadows series, and what can readers expect in terms of continuity and development between the two works?

A recent development in popular fiction, likely brought on by streaming services and “binging” television shows (watching entire seasons all at once rather than waiting every week for a new episode), is that some readers are reticent to begin a series unless it’s already complete. This creates the obvious death spiral where the first book in a series comes out, readers don’t buy it because they want to wait until they can binge the whole series, which means sales are too low and publishers abandon it, which then means readers never get to enjoy the series.

Publishers are often asking for standalone books with “series potential” now – something they can market as a standalone but which, if it takes off, has room for sequels. This was the case with my recent novel, Malevolent Seven, for example; I wrote it as a standalone but due to its success, my publisher now wants sequels.

With the Court of Shadows series, I wanted to do something a little different. Rather than simply write standalones with no relationship to each other, or pretend to write standalones but actually have it secretly be a series, I wanted to create a series of linked standalone novels: each one is its own story, complete and hopefully tremendously satisfying for the reader. You could pick up Crucible of Chaos first, or Play of Shadows (which comes out April 2024) or Our Lady of Blades (which comes out in 2025) regardless of reading order and you’ll be immersed in a complete swashbuckling fantasy novel. If you then read one of the others, you’ll enjoy some of the connective elements, but never feel as if you should’ve read something else first.

My hope is this creates the most satisfying series for readers old and new to my books, without ever putting pressure on them to have read something else first so that reading more of the series only adds to the enjoyment, rather than being a requirement. It’s an ambitious endeavour, but one I think meets the ways many of us want to experience stories in this new era.



Sebastien de Castell’s “Crucible of Chaos” enchants readers with a swashbuckling fantasy featuring Estevar Borros, a charismatic magistrate investigating supernatural mysteries. The novel expertly weaves intricate character relationships, evocative world-building, and unexpected twists, showcasing de Castell’s storytelling prowess and establishing the book as a captivating addition to the Court of Shadows series..

Praise for Sebastien’s Books

An energetic, fun adventure that puts the “musk” back in “musketeer.” Guaranteed to increase household swashbuckling by 100%!— Library Journal on Traitor’s Blade

An intriguing system of magic, wry humor, and a twisting plot make for an entertaining series debut.” — Kirkus Review of Books on Spellslinger

THE MALEVOLENT SEVEN is another example of the brilliant and vivid world-building that Sebastien de Castell uniquely delivers through his incredibly original characters and their riveting adventures.— Chad Stahelski, Director of John Wick

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