Guest Blog: When the hero turns out to be the quiet guy sitting in the corner . . . by K. V. Johansen the author of Gods of Nabban

As part of my Guest blog series for authors and fellow bloggers I am proud to present another guest blog spot. K. V. Johansen the author of Gods of Nabban has been kind enough to write a guest blog post for MightyThorJRS today. I am very excited and I would like to thank K.V. and Pyr Books for the opportunity to host this Guest Blog. 

Gods of Nabban by K. V. Johansen

is Out NOW

So go get your copy!


Gods of Nabban by K. V. Johansen

When the hero turns out to be the quiet guy sitting in the corner . . .

K.V. Johansen

Gods of Nabban

Character is what drives the heart of Gods of Nabban, perhaps even more so than in any of the other stories of the seven devils and the caravan road. Though each novel is an interlaced polyphonic narrative, nothing works unless the story is rooted firmly in the character who’s the core of each thread. If I don’t have the character right, I can write and scrap and write and scrap and dig deeper and deeper into that rut and get nowhere, till I find the real person inside whatever it is I’m trying to do.


Gods of Nabban nearly didn’t exist.

When I began working on Marakand, which became the duology comprised of The Leopard and The Lady, I knew that something ominous had been going in the city of Marakand for thirty years or so by the time of the end of Blackdog. I knew that Holla-Sayan, the shapeshifting hero of Blackdog, was heading in that direction, but that it wasn’t going to be primarily his story, however much he got mixed up in it. I thought the way to tell this story was through someone from Marakand, and I started writing the book about a captain in the city guard . . . and the story kept grinding to a juddering halt. Meanwhile, a secondary character, an assassin with a nightmare of a curse tormenting him, was heading to the city to kill the Voice. And he had this follower, this servant, Ghu, this young man who refused to be gotten rid of, though Ahjvar said he didn’t want him and I had no idea what I was meant to do with him. But he was there, vividly alive in my mind, and he wouldn’t go away.

If Ahjvar had remained what I thought I needed him to be, a secondary character, a catalyst and a tragedy, the Marakand duology would have been a very different story and Gods of Nabban, which I think might be one of my strongest things yet, really would never have been told.

Luckily (?) I’m a messy writer; I can’t work with outlines, and have to thrash my way through a swamp- and bramble-filled wilderness, uphill both ways, to get to the truth of the story I’m trying to tell. Which, in the case of Ahjvar and Ghu, turned out to be a rather different story than I thought.

The doomed-to-be-killed-off assassin and his horseboy, as I first conceived of them, didn’t last through their first conversation, because that was so not Ghu.

What was he, though? Finding out is always the fun part.

From a technical point of view, of course, Ghu was a necessary foil to Ahjvar, because a character travelling alone can be very boring unless things jump out at them a lot or they talk to their horse. But he was a foil in other ways as well, light and calm and stillness set back to back with Ahjvar’s dark and ugly, tormented life. Ahjvar needed him. And yet he was an echo, too, of some things in Ahjvar. Ahjvar was incredibly dangerous when he first entered these stories — possessed, murderous, a rabid dog, he said himself, who should be mercifully dispatched. And Ghu, this quiet boy, who might be anywhere between sixteen and twenty or so — other characters’ perception of his age changes depending on how clearly they see him — copes with Ahjvar’s curse and his madness and his nightmares and isn’t afraid of him. Just trails after him, looks after him in the worst of his horrors, and ruthlessly sets him loose as a weapon when that seems the logical solution to a situation. That fascinated me. And he also just quietly loves him, which took me by surprise, but there it was. Beneath that, beneath all Ghu’s quiet and calm, something very deep and very powerful and potentially very dangerous was starting to wake up. What it would become might depend in part on Ahjvar — I’ve mentioned the half-mad-in-his-own-right-and-possessed-by-psychopathic-ghost thing, right? No? Well, that’s what he meant by a mad dog. Not exactly a role model and certainly not a father-figure, but it turns out that wasn’t what Ghu was looking for anyway.

Ghu wasn’t something that could be labelled a sidekick. He was the other half of Ahjvar.

As the story told in The Leopard and The Lady wound up, with varying degrees of victory and tragedy, the surviving characters’ lives went on. I like to leave a few threads leading off over the edge, implying that the world goes on in many other directions as we turn our attention to what comes next. Holla, Ivah, Moth, all headed off on their various roads — some of which are definitely To Be Continued, in case you’re wondering — and Ghu took another. But Ghu’s road, at the end of The Lady, seemed like a brand-new story that was only beginning, and it felt urgent. It didn’t fit, though, into the loose structure of my history of the caravan road and the seven devils.

Except that the more I thought about it, it did. Ghu, in himself, embodies aspects of the cosmology of the world I hadn’t explored even in Blackdog when a goddess of the earth was one of the main characters. I hadn’t intended, at this time in the world’s history, to go to Nabban. I’d vaguely had the idea that if I wrote a Nabban story it would be something set back in the days when the wizard Yeh-Lin was empress, either before or after she became a devil. That Ghu and Ahjvar were in a place where they were starting a new story — I story I had to finish — meant that I had to go to Nabban, because that’s where Ghu was heading and Ahjvar, if he resisted his deep desire for the ending of his life and hung on in the world at all, would be right there at his shoulder. So how did that fit into the larger unfolding of the underlying story of the seven devils going on in the background?

The hints were all there, as they had been for Marakand. Little intimations of tendrils stretching out to touch places far over the horizon. Little flashes of vision: the nature of the gods and the world. Passing conversations on the road, among the caravaneers, of the state of affairs in this land or that, mentions of the Nabbani abomination of slavery, an offence to the gods — and yet Nabban has its gods, so why and how is that tolerated . . . and what was Ivah’s mother, who dies in Blackdog, fleeing from when she left Nabban, and what will Ivah find if she goes there in search of something to answer that restless emptiness in her godless life . . . How can Ahjvar ever live, or learn to live, with what he’s done and what he’s been used to do? What is he going to become now that he’s placed himself in Ghu’s shadow and seems to be trying to surrender all will? Can he be more than a monster and a weapon?

Most of all, what is Ghu making himself into, and how is that going to affect the world?

Finding all that out is where Gods of Nabban came from.

Afterthought: The question of whether Gods of Nabban is a standalone or part of a series is a recurring one and I don’t suppose this essay has helped, so I’ll just say — think of all of these — “The Storyteller, Blackdog, the Marakand duology (The Leopard and The Lady), and Gods of Nabban — as separate stories in a larger history. You can read them as standalones with the same historical setting (so long as you read The Leopard and The Lady together, because they’re one unified story), or you can read them in chronological order. Some people find it’s fine to start with whichever one first grabbed their attention and then go back and forward to the others; others prefer to start at the beginning and have the world unfold with the history. I do think that you can read Gods of Nabban without having first read the Marakand duology, because Ahj and Ghu are starting on a new story, at a new place in their lives, quite different from the people they are at the start of The Leopard, and the backstory that you need to know does emerge in small glimpses, without needing to be a summary of what-has-gone-before.


About the author:

Mostly, I write fantasy (epic fantasy … character-driven epic fantasy … with shapeshifters, demons, gods, and … Moth, around whom even the gods get a bit nervous). These days, I largely write for adults, though I’ve written many children’s and YA fantasy novels and some children’s science fiction, as well as picture books, plus I’ve been known to perpetrate literary criticism.

Gods of the Nabban, set in the world of the caravan road and falling chronologically after The Storyteller, Blackdog, and the two volumes of Marakand, The Leopard and The Lady, is out in September 2016 from Pyr.

My main scholarly interests are ancient and medieval history and languages, and the history of children’s fantasy literature. What else can I say? My life is unexciting. I live with a wicked white husky-mix dog and aspire to an arboretum of my own.

Here on Goodreads, I’m only rating/reviewing books I’ve really liked a lot. Sometimes I rate with stars, sometimes I don’t, but a book is only on my Goodreads shelves if I liked it. For serious critical analysis from me, you’ll have to turn to Quests and Kingdoms or Beyond Window-Dressing.

  • Paperback: 565 pages
  • Publisher: Pyr (September 6, 2016)
  • ISBN-10: 1633882039
  • ISBN-13: 978-1633882034


The fugitive slave Ghu has ended the assassin Ahjvar’s century-long possession by a murderous and hungry ghost, but at great cost. Heir of the dying gods of Nabban, he is drawn back to the empire he fled as a boy, journeying east on the caravan road with Ahjvar at his side.

Haunted by memory of those he has slain, Ahjvar is ill in mind and body, a danger to those about him and to the man who loves him most of all. Tortured by violent nightmares, he believes himself mad. Only his determination not to leave Ghu to face his fate alone keeps Ahjvar from asking to be freed at last from his unnatural life.

Innocent and madman, god and assassin–two men to seize an empire from the tyrannical descendants of the devil Yeh-Lin. But in war-torn Nabban, enemies of gods and humans stir in the shadows. Yeh-Lin herself meddles with the heir of her enemies and his soul-shattered companion, as the fate of the empire rests on their shoulders.



The Leopard

The Lady

by K. V. Johansen

“A lyrical and beguiling fantasy of gods and tortured souls, of grand magics and human frailty. Wonderful books that stand well above your average epic, Johansen’s novels are beautifully written, timeless fantasy Tolkien himself would have loved.”

—TOM LLOYD, author of Stranger of Tempest

“If you like epic fantasy full of flawed, diverse, bickering characters banding together to heal both their world and themselves, Gods of Nabban has got you covered. If you want a story with compelling, psychologically rich characters and a fascinating setting of empires, nomads, gods, and ghosts, it has all of that. And if you enjoy the pure sword-and-sorcery thrill of watching the toughest SOBs on the planet facing down a ruthless army of evil, it’s got that too. K. V. Johansen takes you on a fantastic journey you won’t forget.”
—CHRIS WILLRICH, author of the Gaunt and Bone series

“K. V. Johansen has woven a fabulous epic. Exciting, passionate, and lyrical, with characters that loom larger than life on a grand stage.”

—JON SPRUNK, author of The Book of the Black Earth series

“KV Johansen has crafted a captivating world of gods, demons, wizards and warriors. Enriched by a keen eye for character and masterly, lyrical prose this is an insightful look at the corrosive nature of power on the human soul, not to mention featuring some of the best swordfights I’ve ever read.”
—ANTHONY RYAN, author of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy and The Waking Fire (reviewing Blackdog) 

“Johansen has found a winning combination: the modern epic fantasy penchant for a cast of thousands and the golden age feeling of a tale of Conan or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser dueling with gods gone mad.”
–Publishers Weekly (reviewing The Lady)

“Blackdog is an absorbing story of a man and a goddess on the run, struggling to survive against impossible odds — all in one can’t-put-it-down volume.”
–io9 (reviewing Blackdog)

“Her world is full of rich and vivid detail… High fantasy for lovers of mythology and of powerful beings in human form, this adult fantasy debut should appeal to fans of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series.”
–Library Journal (reviewing Blackdog)

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