Of Glass & Guilds: How Brian McClellan Forged an Epic Fantasy in the Shadow of Lightning
McClellan said he had been thinking about building a magic system out of glass for about halfway through the writing process of the Powder Mage series, but it took a particularly productive conversation with his wife while they were in a London hotel for a convention for the idea to settle into something he wanted to push forward. “I went through many different iterations of how to use glass in a magic system,” McClellan explains. “There was a time when I was trying to figure out how to work like a demon summon that you would imprison in glass balls. And I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of like Pokemon. It doesn’t really work with my style.
McClellan’s in-depth exploration of this system of industrial magic is one of the strongest elements of the epic story, as the author follows questions about the impact of such a resource on the various systems of a society. “We landed on these little glass balls that beautify people, based on the impurities of the sand they’re made with,” McClellan says. “And so it turned into ‘OK, that would be an industry, like a Major industry in the world. And then it extrapolates to, ‘How does this affect the economy? How does this affect wars? How does this affect individuals? And then from there it started to snowball into the world and the characters and how everything would interact.
In addition to Demir, In the shadow of lightning gives us three more POV characters through which to explore the complex world of glass immortals: Kizzie, Idrian and Thessa. Kizzie is an Enforcer and a bastard of one of the most powerful guild families in the empire. She is also one of Demir’s childhood friends. “When Demir is forced to return to the Capitol,” McClellan teases, “one of the first people he goes to is Kizzie because she shares his moral center. Even though she’s the kind of person who gets sent to breaking her knees when needed, she always tries to be as honest as possible and treat people fairly.As the story progresses and war looms, Kizzie must decide where her loyalty lies : with the family who never accepted her, or elsewhere?
McClellan calls Idrian one of his “almost anime-style action characters”. A Breacher who works in the elite military wing of Ossan’s army, Idrian wears armor made of stronger-than-steel godglass, and carries a sword and shield in the age of muskets. “Basically his job is to break the line,” McClellan says. “He is sent to completely destroy the infantry and create openings for his own battalion.” Idrian allows McClellan to give a military view of this world, complicated by a “childish madness” held at bay by a divine eye. However, when the creator of said magic eye is murdered at the start of the book, Idrian wonders what his future might look like. “‘If this madness progresses, I can no longer be a soldier, can no longer be trusted to stand up for the people I care about and love and do my job,'” McClellan says, channeling the state of Idrian’s mind. “And that creates a bit of an existential crisis for someone who sees themselves as a bit of a blunt instrument. [He wonders] “I’m sent to destroy things and to protect the rest of my troop, but what happens when I can’t do this job?”
Finally, we have Thessa, whom McClellan calls “our reader’s window into the magical system of the world.” Thessa is a godglass engineer who studied under one of the great masters of silica engineering. When Demir sets out to solve the mystery of his mother’s untimely death, Thessa becomes a natural ally as Thessa’s master was also murdered, apparently because he had a secret alliance with Demir’s mother to figure out why the magic of the world is running out. (Don’t worry, it’s all revealed in the early chapters of the book.),” says McClellan. Thessa joins this ragtag group of outcasts that Demir is building, kicking off a story that is only the first in glass immortals‘ much larger narrative.
With In the shadow of lightning, McClellan has created a fantastical new world to explore, based on a political mystery and four compelling characters. What does he hope readers will find there? “Ultimately, I’m writing so people enjoy the book,” McClellan says. “I don’t like to spend a lot of time philosophizing and things like that. I like that it’s an adventure novel, basically.