Author Interview with Amanda McCrina!

Amanda McCrina, Author of His Own Good Sword and Blood Road, has a new book coming out tomorrow! It’s Blood Oath, the sequel to Blood Road, and Amanda was kind enough to answer some interview questions via email. BTW, if you haven’t read her books and are a Megan Whalen Turner fan, you should give them a try!


(Amanda’s author picture. Click on it for her website!)

What sources did you use to create Tasso? Is it based on a real place? 

Tasso isn’t based on one particular place, though it’s probably closest to the North Africa of late antiquity. The indigenous people groups of Tasso are drawn loosely from the ancient Berbers. The enigmatic, unnamed female chieftain of the Mayaso tribe in Blood Road and Blood Oath is very loosely inspired by Dihya, the seventh-century Berber warrior queen, and the relatively high status of women in traditional Berber societies, such as the Tuareg, was something I really wanted the tribes of Tasso to reflect. Then again, the Tegeno people, whom we meet in Blood Oath and who inhabit the lands just north of Tasso, are (again, loosely) based on the Sarmatian tribes of the Pontic steppe—so really Tasso is just a very general reflection of several different places around the ancient Mediterranean/Black Sea rim. 

I’m very impressed by your convoluted plots! (I’ve read an early version of the battle in Blood Oath). Do you outline? How do you keep your timelines and characters straight?

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with outlining. I did try to work from an outline for Blood Oath, at first, since there were so many different threads to keep track of and so many character and plot arcs from Blood Road that I had to remember to wrap up. But I quickly found that I felt stifled by the outline—so much so that I had to put the whole manuscript aside for a while and work on something completely different. When I went back to it, I discarded the outline and just wrote from the hip. That at least got me a finished draft. Then I went back and transposed from draft to outline, so that I had a solid outline in hand when I started the second draft. 

As far as keeping everything straight in my head—I do often have to write notes and reminders for myself. Going back to the number of unfinished arcs, I had a literal checklist of things that I knew I needed to address in Blood Oath, if I didn’t know exactly where or how. 

Torien is very young at the beginning of Blood Oath, isn’t he? Were there real societies where boys had to enter the army at such a young age? Did the Romans actually do this? 

Blood Oath starts with a flashback sequence: Torien has just turned sixteen, and we learn that he’s already halfway through his first year of training in the Imperial army. In Torien’s world, boys from noble families—second-born sons, traditionally—leave home at fifteen to begin their officer training, which lasts four years. Torien receives his first command at age nineteen.

Especially in the ancient world, this wouldn’t have been unusually young. In Roman society, boys reached manhood and donned the toga virilis around age fifteen, and army service followed soon after. Scipio Africanus had his first command at seventeen, and we have a heartbreaking epigraph from second-century Rome left by a mother in memory of her seventeen-year-old son, who died while serving in Hadrian’s Praetorian Guard. So, while it might seem jarring to modern Western sensibilities to read about a nineteen-year-old military commander and his seventeen-year-old adjutant, it’s definitely not without historical precedent!