Blackheart Knights is set in a city where knights are the celebrities of the day, riding on motorbikes instead of horses and competing in televised fights for fame and money. Imagine Camelot but in Gotham.
This is a city where a young, magic-touched bastard astonishes everyone by becoming king – albeit with extreme reluctance – and a girl with a secret past trains to become a knight for the sole purpose of vengeance.
Here, magic is illegal but everywhere, in its underground bars, its back-alley soothsayers – and in the people who have to hide what they are for fear of being tattooed and persecuted, and electricity is money, power the only game worth playing, and violence the most fervently worshipped religion…
We spoke to Blackheart Knights author Laure Eve about Streetfighter II, being inspired by London and the joy of fantasy…
Can you remember when and where you first got the idea for Blackheart Knights?
A few years ago, I had a dream in which two people were fighting in an arena. One was a forbidding, shaven-headed man who was clearly bigger, stronger and scarier. The other was much smaller than him and wearing a knight’s helmet so you couldn’t see their face.
The shaven-headed man was easily winning the fight, when he was almost floored by some unexpected move from his tiny opponent. Enraged at the audacity, he pulled a knife and stabbed his opponent in the arm, pinning them against the wall. I still remember the scream they made, a real animal noise, but curiously high. The shaven-headed man pulled off their helm and revealed – le gasp! – a woman.
It was one of those absorbing dreams that stays with you for days afterwards. I found myself wanting to know who they both were and why they were fighting, and ended up writing the scene to find out.
That initial dream is pretty much intact as chapter two of the book.
If any, what were your inspirations when writing Blackheart Knights?
I spent a lot of time at an arcade in my idle youth, and undoubtedly the coolest game there at the time was Streetfighter II. I’d spend ages watching the older kids play these characters through a bunch of fights and face up against the Big Boss M. Bison at the end, but what absorbed me most was thinking about the back story of these characters, why they were fighting, what they wanted and what they feared.
I also have a long-time love for the neo-noir cityscapes of movies like Blade Runner and Akira, and have always wanted to write something against that kind of backdrop.
Finally, London itself. I’m not a Londoner by birth but I’ve been living there for a few years now and it’s one of those cities that just keeps unfolding. The more you look, the more weird and fascinating stuff there is to find.
What made you want to reinvent the Arthurian tale?
Arthuriana is one of those story worlds that lends itself so easily to reinterpretation. I loved the thought of taking these idealised mediaeval versions of power and justice and exploring them in a contemporary milieu.
Can you tell us a little more about the world you’ve created for Blackheart Knights?
I describe it as Camelot in Gotham City. Knights ride around on motorbikes instead of horses, in leather, with swords. Because, cool.
This version of London has magic, but also electric trains and television and urban wastelands and abandoned underground tunnels and grimy dive bars.
The number seven features heavily. There are seven saints in their main religion, seven districts of London, seven elite families that control those districts, and thus seven factions fighting over who gets to rule the city every time the old ruler dies. Which is often, as they do tend to get assassinated a lot. This is a joyously violent place.
‘Sex and death, the oldest of lovers’, as one of their traditional sayings goes: this pretty much sums up the world. I’m not a subtle writer.
There are some very strong and unique characters in the novel. What is your process when creating characters? Do you build a history for them?
For me, characters have to have a driving force, or you can’t make them move. So I usually start with figuring out what it is they most want in the world, and then why they want that thing. This immediately engenders motion as they go about trying to get the thing they want. Then you can start throwing up roadblocks to prevent them from getting it.
You can start building their history by deciding why they want the thing they want. What experiences have they had that could explain the person they have become at the point we meet them?
From that you start to get the shape of their voice, their strengths and weaknesses, their fears… desire is the driving force. Passive characters can be useful in other ways, but they make for boring protagonists.
What is it about fantasy that appeals to you as an author and what do you think it is about fantasy that appeals to audiences?
Fantasy gives us the ability to examine our own culture one step removed, where that examination can feel both safer and clearer. Plus we get to play in a more extreme sandbox with fewer consequences. It’s easier to examine the furthest corners of our humanity when we’re unconstrained by the real-world rules we know. Our imaginations can run further and faster.
What are you reading right now?
I’m usually in the middle of several books that I tend to flit between. Right now it’s:
- The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
- The Borribles by Michael de Larrabeiti
- Synners by Pat Cadigan
- Folle-Farine by Ouida
What’s next for you?
I’ve got to finish the first draft of the sequel to Blackheart Knights, which I am absolutely not running late on.
After that I’m poking around with a ’90s set thriller, a David Lynch-style TV show script and a Lovecraftian horror set in a tiny fishing village. It’ll be fun to see if I can get any of them off the ground…
Blackheart Knights by Laure Eve is out on 27 May 2021 priced at £18.99 for hardback. It will also be available in eBook and audio.