I got to interview K.A. Doore for the first two books in The Chronicles of Ghadid, The Perfect Assassin and The Impossible Contrast. I am delighted to celebrate the release of the finale, The Unconquered City, the thrilling conclusion featuring the community of Ghadid coming together to solve the undead problem once and for all.
Wrapping Up a Trilogy
What research did you do to create Hathage, especially since it’s such a different city than Ghadid?
I went down several rabbit holes just learning about the impact of climate change on coastal cities, then ended up focusing on one specific mitigation effort—sea walls—for much too long considering all that research ended up as a single throw-away line.
Even though little of that research made it into the book, understanding the lengths the people of Hathage had gone through to save their city over several desperate generations helped me build their city and their culture. They are persistent and they are resourceful and they have outlived their fair share of empires. In the end, like Ghadid, they are hopeful.
What was your favorite scene or moment to write?
Ooh this is an easy one: the scene between Illi and Heru in Hathage. A lot of their relationship that had been left unsaid before that point gets to boil over and it was delightful to write Illi’s anger and Heru’s disdain. This was one of those scenes that I didn’t touch much in the subsequent edits – it was pretty much perfect from the first draft.
This trilogy features such a strong emotional arc about communities coming together for mutual survival. Did the emotional arc or plot arc come first as you were crafting the end?
Hands down, the emotional arc, which is pretty different from the usual way I write. Typically, I start with a cool image or scene and explore the worldbuilding that supports it. But I knew where I wanted to land in this one and I had spent two previous books building the world.
Even when I thought The Impossible Contract would be a standalone, I recognized that any story that came after would have to deal with its emotional fallout. The last thing I wanted to do was sweep all that trauma under the rug or pretend it didn’t happen, which is why I knew exactly what that arc would be from the moment I committed to continuing the story, and why I feared writing it. It was so incredibly important to me to capture the reality of that trauma through not just the main character, but the entire city.
Besides that, I wanted to write a story about healing and hope. This book has its roots in the aftermath of the 2016 election, in Alexandra Rowland’s championing of hopepunk, in conversations with other writers about community and support. It also grew out of my own struggle with toxic individualism and inability to ask for or accept help. The Unconquered City is a story I desperately needed at the time, in the same way The Impossible Contract was years before. My only hope is that it helps some readers in the same way it helped me.
How did you go about choosing which elements of the previous books would be returning in the finale?
I always had a natural progression in mind when it came to the fantastical elements. Choosing who would return was a bit more difficult. I had to weigh my own desire to see a character on page versus the plot’s need, and there were times I struggled with the feeling I was writing my own fanfiction.
I have a tendency to leave things unsaid or off page when I’m not sure, so in this—and every—instance, I leaned heavily on my beta readers for what felt like too much or not enough. In the end, I think I found the right balance. Of course, only the readers will really decide that, but I’ve made my peace.
And there are always short stories.
The Road to Publishing
What would you say was the biggest challenge when wrapping up this trilogy?
Can I say everything? Because everything.
Emotionally, it was challenging to know this would be my last chance to say everything I wanted to say in this world. I was only able to stop myself short of turning the third book into an overburdened, 600-page monstrosity by promising I could always return in short stories. The ones I have written and shared on my website were all part of that compromise, a way for me to properly say goodbye to some of the characters and places that didn’t get as much time in the novels.
Craftwise, it was a challenge to both raise the stakes of the story and the world while keeping those stakes intimate and close. Maintaining a consistent tone and voice and feel while keeping the stories and main characters distinct was a tightrope walk I’m not sure I always managed. But it is a walk I’m better for having taken and it forced me to learn and grow as a writer I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Is there anything you wish you could tell Past!Kai about writing the first books now that you’ve completed the series?
That it’s going to be all right. Stop worrying, put on that music, and go for a run—you’ll figure it out.
Also: make it gay.
As we say farewell to this wonderful cast, what are some books you’d recommend reading?
An older book, but one that feels more relevant by the day, is Corinne Duyvis’ On the Edge of Gone. In it, an autistic teen fights for a spot on a generation ship fleeing an Earth that has been ravaged by a comet. Its message of community and hope is more relevant than ever. I’m rereading it in anticipation of Duyvis’ next book, The Art of Saving the World, which comes out in September and sounds every bit as thoughtful and hopeful.
If you haven’t read S.A. Chakraborty’s amazing and epic Daevabad Trilogy yet, the last book, The Empire of Gold, comes out June 30th. These are gorgeous, richly written, complexly plotted and deeply characterized books that are just everything I love about epic fantasy. If you like my worldbuilding, Shannon hits it out of the freaking park.
And last, but not least, Devin Madson’s Reborn Empire series begins next week with We Ride the Storm, which is a thunderous start to a promising epic fantasy rife with death magic, corpse-wearing, and tasteful decapitation. Check the content warnings first, though.
What are projects you’re looking forward to?
I’ve got a story in the sapphic fantasy anthology Silk & Steel coming out in November and I’m excited to read the other shorts from many authors I admire and look up to.
Otherwise, I’m looking forward to one day sharing what I’m working on now beyond “it’s got a bit of death magic and it’s queer af” with the world.
K.A. Doore grew up in Florida, but has since lived in lush Washington, arid Arizona, and cherry-infused Michigan. While recovering from climate whiplash, she’s raised chickens, learned entirely too much about property assessment, photographed cacti, and now develops online trainings, none of which has anything to do with—perhaps has everything to do with—her BA in Classics. Follow her on Twitter. The Unconquered City is out today (June 16th) and can be purchased from my local indie Unabridged Books, Bookshop, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold.