There’s nothing quite so exciting as cracking open a debut novel, and Night Shade Books has given us many memorable opportunities to do so over the years, helping to launch the careers of standout authors like Paolo Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl, The Water Knife), Kameron Hurley (God’s War, The Mirror Empire), and Bradley P. Beaulieu (The Winds of Khalakovo, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai).
Now, they’re giving another new voice the stage, and we can’t wait to hear him sing. In September, Night Shade will publish The Promise of the Child, an ambitious, wholly unique space opera by Tom Toner. With a timeline that spans millennia; complex, multi-layered plotting; and prose that would be at home on literary fiction shelves, it promises to be unlike anything you’ve read before—a sentiment echoed by Adam Roberts (Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea), who called it, “Absolutely brilliant.”
Night Shade has given us the chance to show off the cover for this, the first volume of The Amaranthine Spectrum, which you will find below the publisher’s blurb. Then, read on for some thoughts from author Tom Toner on writing a book that scared him.
It is the 147th century.
In the radically advanced post-human worlds of the Amaranthine Firmament, there is a contender to the Immortal throne: Aaron the Long-Life, the Pretender, a man who is not quite a man.
In the barbarous hominid kingdoms of the Prism Investiture, where life is short, cheap, and dangerous, an invention is born that will become the Firmament’s most closely kept secret.
Lycaste, a lovesick recluse outcast for an unspeakable crime, must journey through the Provinces, braving the grotesques of an ancient, decadent world to find his salvation.
Sotiris, grieving the loss of his sister and awaiting the madness of old age, must relive his twelve thousand years of life to stop the man determined to become Emperor.
Ghaldezuel, knight of the stars, must plunder the rarest treasure in the Firmament—the object the Pretender will stop at nothing to obtain.
From medieval Prague to a lonely Mediterranean cove, and eventually far into the strange vastness of distant worlds, The Promise of the Child is a debut novel of gripping action and astounding ambition unfolding over hundreds of thousands of years, marking the arrival of a brilliant new talent in science fiction.
Below, Tom Toner discusses what sparked the creation of this strange new sci-fi saga:
The Promise of the Child is a novel set at the very end of humanity’s natural life, in a world vastly changed.
Plenty of science fiction deals with mankind at the height of its interstellar powers. I wanted to explore what happens next: when the limits have been reached, when thousands of years of momentum (stalled by war and tangential human breeding, ultimately dividing all but a precious few into hominid, goblin races) have come to a standstill, and practically all remnants of that power have now rusted away to nothing. The result was SF that borders on fantasy in places, a tale that takes place in such an exotic epoch that the year almost doesn’t matter. It’s a period I like to call Out Woop Woop, to use a great Australian saying for something very, very far away (and it takes Australians five hours to get to the supermarket, don’t forget). And that far into the Woop, on the cusp of oblivion, all manner of ridiculous things have come into being.
The book began life as a single idea, a single scene in my mind. A young man stands on a beach of hot, flat pebbles and bleached driftwood, looking out at the green sea. It is the 147th century, and this is the Old World, the sacred, ancient kernel at the heart of the Amaranthine Firmament. It is a wilderness, a lair of monsters from which few ever return.
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When I set out to write The Promise of the Child, a great big story of multiple viewpoints, set at the quiet end of civilization when the last great lights are going out, I gradually realized that I required some comprehensible link to the past, a sober emissary through whom we could make some sense of all the drunken silliness around us. This idea spawned a handful of characters (the Amaranthine: ancient, near-immortal remnants of our own species, Homo Sapiens, that are, perversely, descending into madness) that could conceivably remember this century. Through flashbacks and dreams we see the past as it was, and one last character, a man (who is perhaps not quite a man) that permeates it all. Having set this down on paper, I took a breath and went out into the Woop, specifically to the year 14,647 AD, a date so distant as to allow for almost any possibility, and began the story.
I tethered the central adventure, that of our awkward hero Lycaste, to the Mediterranean—referred to in the novel as the Nostrum Sea, just as it was throughout the Roman era—because this particular vision of the next 12,000 years felt pickled and tarnished, petrified by the weight of antiquity and all that had gone before. Lycaste’s world of the Tenth Province, a lonely outpost of an inbred, 600-year-old hegemony, is the product of a dense and eventful history, and his perspective one of ignorance; a bright thread that crosses the story, diverted here and there by actions outside of its control—the handful of other narratives through which the story is told. Many characters he will never meet, some he will, and yet all are of equal importance. It is through Lycaste, however, lovesick and unsure of himself as he is, that I wanted to channel the feel of the world of the 147th century, the smell, the taste. Lycaste’s perception of life in terms of colour, too, were very important—for reasons that become clear—and a number of paintings by old and new artists inspired the visuals of the novel, from Hieronymus Bosch to Patrick Woodroffe, in the hope of creating something both beautiful and hideous.
With The Promise of the Child I deliberately set out to scare myself, to concoct a world with the distillation of everything I found eerie and unpleasant, where nothing is quite as it seems at first glance and new etiquettes, customs and understandings rule the existence of the common man, in this case the giant Melius, the species to which Lycaste belongs. Questions that fascinated me included everything from the physiology of future people to their superstitions, the diversity of life in this new world and the examination of how laws, commerce, food, drink, government, social interactions, and much more have changed after a gap of twelve-and-a-half-thousand years. This expanded, as the story demanded, to include the Firmament (the nearest twenty or so stars around the Old World) and the terrors that lurk further out. What sort of travel is possible, and how is it achieved? What does mass poverty in space look like? How do the Amaranthine, ancient, sleepy things fixated on their own comfort, enforce their power amongst the grindingly poor and dangerous Prism?
But the end of humanity does not mean the end of life, and the 147th century is a vibrant, colorful time in which trillions of the hominid Prism populate ghastly, poorly-terraformed worlds around other suns. As the last Amaranthine sink sleepily into the void, new forms rise to continue the story, and to forge, perhaps, the most epic legends of them all.