Risingshadow has an opportunity to feature a guest post by Neil Williamson about Queen of Clouds.
About Neil Williamson:
Neil Williamson was born in Motherwell, Scotland. He is a resident of Glasgow.
His books include: The Moon King (runner-up for the BSFA award and finalist for the British Fantasy Society Robert Holdstrock award), Queen Of Clouds; short story collections, The Ephemera and Secret Language (both finalists for the British Fantasy Award); anthologies, Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction (finalist for the World Fantasy Award) and Thirty Years of Rain; and a novella, The Memoirist.
About Queen of Clouds:
Queen of Clouds is a sumptuous fantasy from the mind of Glasgow-based author and musician Neil Williamson. Neil's debut novel The Moon King was described by Jeff VanderMeer as "one of the best debuts of this or any other year" and went on to be shortlisted for both the BSFA Award and British Fantasy Award for best novel.
This, the author's second novel, is just as rich and even more compelling, with a plot that features ambition, treachery, deceit, jeopardy, tragedy and hope, not to mention love and magic...
Billy Braid has been raised in an idyllic mountain backwater, aiding Master Kim to craft strangely sentient sylvans from carefully cultivated trees. Then the outside world impinges, and Billy is tasked with delivering a sylvan to the Sunshine City of Karpentine. Upon his arrival, Billy falls in with a young Weathermaker, Paraphernalia, who proves to be fascinating and infuriating in equal measure. But all is not well in the Sunshine City, and Billy is soon embroiled in Machiavellian intrigues he is ill-equipped to deal with, as the city's ruling Guilds – the Constructors, Inksmiths, Weathermakers and more – jostle for status and power, seeing him as the key.
Billy gets co-opted by the Weathermakers who have troubles of their own. The weather is behaving badly. Can Billy help Paraphernalia, heir to the Queen of Clouds, understand what is happening and restore order to the Sunshine City? And if this strange new phenomenon gets out of control, will it usher in a new chapter for humankind... or the end of everything.
Queen of Clouds is a delight; a fast-paced tale set in a richly imagined world. Wooden automata, sentient weather, talking cats, compellant inks, a tower of hands built from the casts provided by the city's many visitors, and a host of vividly realised characters provide the backdrop as the drama rushes to its stunning climax.
Guest post by Neil Williamson
I didn’t start Queen of Clouds with the intention of writing a Climate Fiction novel, but I guess that’s what I ended up doing. Although, perhaps that’s not quite accurate because this isn’t a story that examines the perilous state of the world and suggests solutions. Despite being a fantasy novel featuring wooden automata and talking cats, Weathermakers and Inksmiths, it’s fundamentally a fable about frustration.
I’m no environmental activist, but neither am I blind to the mess the planet is in and our collective role in making it that way. Here in Scotland, like increasingly many people with enough cash to be able to make choices about what products to buy, I find myself opting for lowest food miles and least plastic packaging where possible. We compost and recycle too, that’s a given. Because these are the things that are in our power to do, and they help relieve the frustration about the things we can’t control.
When COP26 was in Glasgow last November, many Important people made a lot of Big Promises, but those promises came as the result of a lot of bargaining, with some countries still so invested in the production and consumption of fossil fuel energy that the resulting pledges were never realistically going to deliver the emission cuts that are needed to safeguard the planet’s future. The parks and streets of Glasgow were full of young activists voicing their anger. I shared that anger, that frustration.
But like I say, I didn’t intend Queen of Clouds to be about all that. So, how did it end up that way?
Well, Queen of Clouds is a loose prequel to my first novel, The Moon King, which takes place on an island in a world entirely flooded both by water and weirdness (and which has the moon permanently in orbit around it, but that’s another story). So, the task in writing Queen of Clouds was to tell the story of how the world became that way. During the course of the book, we learn that there’s this stuff in the fabric of the world that, among other properties, encourages sentience in inanimate things. On one hand, this allows artisans to craft beautiful sentient automata who potter around following their own independent agendas. On the other hand, it makes the weather self-aware with all of the personality traits of a brattish two year old child, and there are tantrums on the way.
It’s when Billy and Para, the book’s protagonists, decide they have to do something to prevent the weather destroying the place that the story begins. And this is where the frustration comes in. I could have had them battle the forces of evil and avert the disaster at the end, but I wanted something that felt relevant rather than mere wishful thinking. So, as the story builds, and the threat from the weather increases, our heroes find themselves blocked at every turn by disbelief and the self-interest of the ruling guilds, led by the dastardly Inksmiths whose use of inks that control thought and behaviour are something of a comment on the role of our contemporary media barons. There is a happy ending of sorts for some of the characters, but I’ll leave you to discover that for yourselves.
I’m really proud of Queen of Clouds, and I hope readers enjoy it. But if a little dark cloud starts following you down the road, watch out. It’s not something you can afford to ignore for long.