6 min read

An Archipelago of Comradeship

A Guest Feature by Ryan Van Loan
Ryan van Loan is a white masc with close-cropped light brown hair and a large tattoo of a feather on his forearm. In this image, he's leaning against a graffiti'd guardrail in front of a lot of trees.

A big thank you to Gailey for inviting me back to their newsletter. I’ve known Sarah for several years now and their generosity and unbridled enthusiasm are contagious, so when they asked if I’d be interested in talking a little bit about my upcoming book, The Justice in Revenge, ‘no’ was not an option.

The Justice in Revenge is my sequel to last year’s debut The Sin in the Steel. This trilogy is the story of Sambuciña ‘Buc’ Alhurra, an autodidact streetrat who is part Sherlock Holmes, part young Indiana Jones, and all herself. Buc’s too smart for her own good, with a razor-sharp blade up her sleeve and an even sharper tongue in her mouth. She and her swordsman partner-in-crime-solving, Eld, are the first private investigators in a world controlled by trading companies and empires and Gods caught in an endless war.

In The Sin in the Steel, the duo, determined to upend their corrupt society, take on a mission that has them facing off against pirate queens, mages, and uncharted seas to solve a mystery empires have failed to uncover. If you’re interested in learning more, this review gets at why I call the series adventure fantasy with heart.

(Be warned: from here on out, there be spoilers for the first book)

The Justice in Revenge has our dynamic duo dealing with the fallout from events in The Sin in the Steel and is set against the backdrop of Servenza, a gear-work island city with all sorts of amazing set pieces: gondola races, canal fights, masquerades, and an evil mastermind who may be the only person who can rival Buc’s genius. That’s the adventure part, but today, I wanted to talk a little bit about the heart of Justice and why I was drawn to write it and why I think you’ll (hopefully) be drawn to read it.

The heart of this story is found family and trauma. Trauma. How it impacts us, how it impacts those around us, and how not dealing with it is also a choice. Often one with tragic consequence.

Buc and Eld are close friends (edging towards something more) who only have each other to count on. It’s been like that for years: two pals, back-to-back against the world. But at the end of Sin in the Steel, Buc makes a choice to save Eld. That choice infects her with magic, putting a shard of the Goddess Ciris into her mind. Buc and Eld hate magic for different, but equally good reasons — so when Buc allows herself to be infected with Sin to save Eld, she knows exactly what she’s doing.

Or she thinks she does.

But Buc doesn’t count on the echoes of trauma from the climactic end of The Sin in the Steel. A season follows in which Buc and Eld see their mission pay off with seats at the table of the most powerful trading company in the world, thrusting them into the center of politics at a time where Buc is most decidedly out of her element. Eld, meanwhile, is dealing with the guilt of what Buc sacrificed to save him: her freedom. He also can’t help but believe his growing feelings for her played a role in what happened — and worse, he fears Buc is now a servitor of the Goddess Ciris.

You can see how quickly that could spiral under the best of times — let alone when you’re trying to overthrow the Gods and the society they’ve fostered.

So why don’t they just talk it out? There are spoilery reasons (deadly ones) preventing that conversation. But even if there weren’t… dealing with trauma isn’t easy. It’s prying thorns from the flesh of the soul, and it hurts almost as bad coming out as it did going on. Worse, sometimes. The pain lingers.

First, you have to believe you can heal. That you deserve to heal. That’s what has to happen in between all that adventure on the page.

I’m a big believer in taking care of yourself before you can take care of others. You can’t fix a relationship that has been damaged until you address your own damage. In (some) fiction, a conversation fixes everything, but in the real world you have to put in the work. Servenza might be an island, but I’ve never believed we are, each of us, islands. I believe it takes multitudes, an archipelago of comradeship, to change the world.

In the end, The Justice in Revenge is the story of two traumatized people fighting to find their way back to one another through the trauma, all while fighting against every politician, corrupt cop, gang leader, and mage in Servenza.

The real question is this: will Buc and Eld reunite? Or will the canal have another pair of bodies floating in it come morning?

I hope you’ll read, and find out.

Ryan Van Loan is an up and coming Science Fiction and Fantasy author.  He started reading his Grandfather’s  Reader’s Digest when he was four years old.  Soon after, he read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer before eventually discovering science fiction and fantasy through the works of Robin McKinley, Robert Jordan, Stephen King and many more.  He moved around a lot in his childhood from Montana to Georgia to Puerto Rico before finally ending up in Pennsylvania. Ryan served six years as a Sergeant in the United States Army Infantry (PA National Guard) where he served on the front lines of Afghanistan.  All of that travel got into his blood and Ryan has traveled around the world with his wife, wandering Caribbean island haunts, exploring the palaces and cathedrals of Europe, and hiking with elephants in the rain forests of Southeast Asia.  When he’s not traveling Ryan enjoys hiking, soccer (football), tabletop gaming, weightlifting (with his personal best coming from deadlifting three times his body weight), and all things culinary.  Ryan's debut novel, The Sin in the Steel (Tor Books), Book One in the Fall of the Gods series came out on July 21, 2020.  Today, Ryan lives in northeastern Pennsylvania with his wife and two dogs where he’s hard at work on his next novel.

The cover for THE JUSTICE IN REVENGE features a brown-skinned femme with green eyes, unsmiling, in front of a city that prominently features a large building at the top of a hill. The moon, behind the city, is full.

The island nation of Servenza is a land of flint and steel, sail and gearwork, of gods both Dead and sleeping. It is a society where the wealthy few rule the impoverished many.

Determined to change that, former street-rat Buc, along with Eld, the ex-soldier who has been her partner in crime-solving, have claimed seats on the board of the powerful Kanados Trading Company. Buc plans to destroy the nobility from within—which is much harder than she expected.

Stymied by boardroom politics and dodging mages at every turn, Buc and Eld find a potential patron in the Doga, ruler of Servenza. The deal: by the night of the Masquerade, unmask whoever has been attempting to assassinate the Doga, thereby earning her support in the halls of power. Blow the deadline and she’ll have them deported to opposite ends of the world.

Armed with Eld’s razor-sharp sword and Buc’s even sharper intellect, the dynamic duo hit the streets just as the shadow religious conflict between the Gods begins to break into open warfare. Those closest to Buc and Eld begin turning up with their throats slit amid rumors that a hidden mastermind is behind everything that’s going wrong in Servenza.

Facing wrathful gods, hostile nobles, and a secret enemy bent on revenge, Buc and Eld will need every trick in their arsenal to survive. Luckily, extra blades aren’t the only things Buc has hidden up her sleeves.

Add The Justice in Revenge to your tbr here. Order it from your local independent bookseller, or order it via Bookshop.org to support independent booksellers throughout the US and the UK. For international shipping, you can try Barnes & Noble. You can also request The Justice in Revenge from your local library — here’s how to get in touch with them. And if you need to order from the Bad River Website, here’s a link that will leverage your order to help get clean water to people who need it.

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In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.