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  • Writer's pictureLee Murray

Interview with a Mercenary

To accompany my mini-review of JL Gribble's Steel Time, the fourth instalment in her fabulous Steel Empire series (RDSP), I'm delighted to present this exclusive interview with Toria Connor, 25, a mage-warrior recently arrived in Nacostina at a time when hostilities between the British and Qin Empires are heightened. Since there is a good chance everyone will die in the upcoming war, we took the opportunity to interview her for her perceptions on life in the two epochs.

What were you doing in the ruined city of Nacostina, anyway?

--It’s so embarrassing. Being mages along with mercenaries, my partner Kane and I were hired to search for and retrieve a magical artifact from the center of the ruined city. Only a few people alive today remember what the city was like when it still existed, and I happened to be raised by one. We contracted my adoptive mother to join us on the expedition. She and I were doing some preliminary searching while Kane set up camp, and I literally think I tripped on something. And then I ended up…here.

So, your ‘trip’ to the Museum of New Continental History has whipped you back a century in time. How concerned are you about causing ripples in time and possibly disrupting the course of history?

--Absolutely terrified. How does time even work, really? Is it cause and effect? Will something I do here and now mean that the future I left is completely different? Or is time a closed circuit, and everything I do here has already been done, and nothing will change? It’s enough to give a girl a migraine. Either way, I intend to lie low.

You mentioned someone named Kane. Tell us about your relationship with him. You two are a thing, right?

--Not by your definition of a thing! Kane is my partner as both a mercenary and a mage, but as a brother, not as a romantic pairing. We left his long-term romantic partner back home in Limani, as we often do on mercenary contracts, whereas I’m at more of a “guy in every port” stage of my life. But the three of us are family, and Archer Sophin is the other big brother I never knew I needed until I had him.

In your present (which is now your future), your mother Victory is the vampire Master of the City of Limani, a neutral city-state between the British and Roman colonies. It’s her job to ensure the harmony between the human and supernatural populations, something she’s highly effective at. You, on the other hand, have a college degree in politics. And yet the pair of you are often at loggerheads. What is it with you two?

--We are very different people. Her political knowledge comes from experience whereas mine is learned from books, and I acknowledge that these are not the same things at all. It boils down to personality, and the different ways in which we engage people either individually or as a group. I wouldn’t be surprised if my ways looked a lot like hers in a few centuries, but unfortunately, I won’t live that long for us to find out.

Your mom has also had some vampire ‘progeny,’ one of whom, Jarimis, you had an opportunity to meet during your visit. How do your relationships with Victory differ?

--Jarimis first met Victory as an adult, but she changed my diapers. She had to teach Jarimis how to be a vampire, but she had to teach me how to be a person. But both of us respect the hell out of her, even when we insist on doing things our own ways.

What is the world spell?

--It was a magical ritual cast by a large group of elves in Europa after the Last War, when Nacostina was destroyed along with a lot of the rest of the New Continent. Somehow, they twisted the fabric of reality to ensure that technology, especially weapons technology, could not surpass certain limits. Want to build a pistol? Go for it. Want to build one of the rockets that carried the nuclear weapons that struck the New Continent? Good luck with the rocket or the bomb. You can build them exactly according to the old blueprints, using the same materials, but things just…won’t work.

When spoken, what does Loquella sound like?

--It’s a trade language, so some of the words taken individually don’t seem like they should fit together. Some languages borrow from each other. Loquella mugs other languages in dark alleys, rifles through their pockets for loose grammar, and then demands that the victim create a few new vocabulary words as ransom for their safe release.

With your insight in a couple of eras, what, in your view, are the long-term prospects for folk hoping to pursue mercenary careers?

--Right now in Nacostina? Not great. If you want a career in combat or strategy, you’re better off joining the military. But in my time, when tech is limited? Find your local Guildhall, find some people willing to train you, figure out what sort of jobs you’d be good at, and best of luck!

From the back cover:

You’re never too young or too old to experience a paradigm shift.

Toria Connor is 25 when tripping over an artifact in the ruins of Nacostina thrusts her a century into the past, before the city is destroyed during the Last War. Now, she finds herself alone. Adrift in a time where she must hide everything important to her, from her mercenary career to her true magical ability.

Victory is over eight centuries old when she follows her adopted daughter. She has seen empires rise and fall, but never anything like this. She must survive alone in a city inhospitable to vampires, dodging friends and foes from her past alike.

Both of them know the clock is ticking down to the moment when the city is wiped off the map. Now, they’re in a race against time. To find each other. To escape the past. And to save the future.

Steel Time -- Lee's Mini-review:

Steel Time, the fourth instalment of Gribble’s Steel Empire series is arguably her best yet. After three successful adventures in this compelling alternative history world, Gribble’s confidence in her brand, and her world building, has reached new heights and the result is a well-researched engaging narrative that is charged with pre-War tension. In this story, Victory, the Vampire Master of the City of Limani, and Toria, her adopted daughter and master mercenary, return (more than once) to the city of Narcostina, where they encounter a dangerous villain from the past, or perhaps from the future. There are some new characters too: Liam, the elven deputy-head curator of the Museum of New Continental History, Granny Tia, a seamstress with more than just a flair for fashion, and Toria’s new friend Lyra, trapped in time too, albeit in a different way. And hovering in the background is the former museum curator, Hugh, who’s seen these kinds of time accidents before and has been engaged to help Toria adjust to the circumstances. Although it’s never mentioned, I imagine Hugh wearing tweed. The early equivalent of an AirBnB host, I love the way he’s always ready with a spare room and a hot cup of tea. Fans of the series will note that there are fewer characters this time out, which means more time has been devoted to their development and given the complexity of Steel Time’s time-twisting plot perhaps that is a deliberate decision on Gribble’s part. The story theme is timeless: family bonds, love, loss, and the knowledge that we are the creators of our own destinies, all great concepts to hang a story on. With its bar brawls, family secrets, and more than one ticking ‘time bomb’ that could change the course of history, Steel Time is a captivating addition to the time travel genre.

Start from the beginning of the Steel Empires series:

The cover was created by UK artist Bradley Sharp:

About the author:

By day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.

Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program.

She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats.

Find her online at:

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