Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing K. V. Johansen about her latest novel, The Last Road.

About the author:

K. V. Johansen is the author of the Gods of Caravan Road fantasy series. Born in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, she developed her lifelong fascination with fantasy literature after reading The Lord of the Rings at the age of eight.

Her interest in the history and languages of the Middle Ages led her to take a Master’s Degree in Medieval Studies at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, and a second M.A. in English Literature at McMaster University, where she wrote her thesis on Layamon’s Brut, an Early Middle English epic poem. While spending most of her time writing, she retains her interest in medieval history and languages and is a member of the Early English Text Society, as well as the SFWA and the Writers’ Union of Canada.

In 2014, she was an instructor at the Science Fiction Foundation’s Masterclass in Literary Criticism held in London. She is also the author of two works on the history of children’s fantasy literature, two short story collections, and a number of books for children and teens. Various of her books have been translated into French, Macedonian, and Danish.

Connect with the author online:

About The Last Road:

"Simply on a higher level to the vast majority of fantasy books." — Tom Lloyd, Author of Stranger of Tempest

When even the gods are dying, the hope of the world may lie in its most feared enemies. A new god proclaimed as the All-Holy has arisen in the west and leads an army eastward, devouring the gods and goddesses of the lands between, forcibly converting their folk and binding their souls to himself. The very fabric of the world appears threatened by forces beyond the understanding of scholars and wizards alike. Even the great city of Marakand, where the roads of east and west converge, seems powerless to resist the All-Holy, though the devils Moth and Yeh-Lin and the assassin Ahjvar, undead consort of the god of distant Nabban, have come to stand with it. That may avail Marakand little, for the shapeshifting Blackdog, once a champion of the gods, follows obediently at the All-Holy's heel and Lakkariss, the sword of the cold hells, is in his master's hand.

Publishing information:

  • Publishing date: October 22, 2019
  • Publisher: PYR


- Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?

I live in New Brunswick, Canada, on the Bay of Fundy. I’ve been making stories all my life and playing classical guitar since I was nine. I’m much better at the stories than the guitar, which hasn’t stopped me recently deciding to take up rock guitar and bass as well. I like maps, and walking in the woods, and growing roses; I have a dog who doesn’t like guitar, but does like walks and eating rosebushes.

- What inspired you to become a fantasy author?

My parents read to me every night from before I can remember. The rhythms of A.A. Milne, prose and poetry both, were there shaping the music of language for me, The Hobbit was the first book I read for myself that wasn’t a picture book, and then when I was eight I read The Lord of the Rings. I’ve always made stories, and they’ve always been fantasy. It just seems to be the natural shape things fell into for me.

- You're the author of the Gods of the Caravan Road fantasy series. Could you tell us something about this series?

Gods of the Caravan Road is a secondary world fantasy, a silk road fantasy with a setting that spans a continent, and in The Last Road, unrolls the map southwards over the sea to another continent and gives a glimpse across to the east as well. In this world, the gods and the goddesses of the earth are very local deities, each bound to their own place. Some are worshipped with a formal religious structure, with temples and a priesthood; others are just there for the folk of their land to seek out when they feel the need to, a bit like the aunt you might go to visit when you need to talk something over. They’re far from all-powerful and can be quite vulnerable, needing the protection of their folk rather than the other way around. There are also the Old Great Gods, who are not a part of the living world but are said to receive the souls of the dead, and their enemies, the devils, who were sealed into the cold hells after some war between them. There are wizards, who are mortal, though longer lived than ordinary people, and demons, who are like the gods, spirits of the land, thought they can and do sometimes wander. The story through the books is centred on several characters caught into what happens when seven devils, who had bonded themselves with seven wizards in an earlier time and caused a lot of war and upheaval, escape from the graves where they sealed away after their defeat. Now they’re loose in the world, being hunted by one of their own fellows, who calls herself Moth.

The main character from Blackdog is Holla-Sayan, a caravan guard who is possessed against his will by the guardian dog-spirit that protects an incarnate goddess when he stopped to help a child fleeing from a conquered town. He raises her as his daughter, waiting their time to retake her land, while struggling to reach some kind of accord with the spirit that possesses him. In The Leopard and The Lady, Holla-Sayan is drawn into a civil war as the city of Marakand rises up against its tyrannical, mad goddess, but two new main characters, the assassin Ahjvar, cursed to be the undying host of a parasitic ghost who feeds on death, and his companion Ghu, an uncanny young man who fled slavery in Nabban, carry the main line of the story. Moth’s story, her hunting of her fellow devils with her partner Mikki, a half-demon wer-bear, weaves through the lives of Holla-Sayan, Ahjvar, Ghu, the devil Yeh-Lin, who is a former empress of Nabban, and Ivah, a young wizard who is Holla-Sayan’s enemy in Blackdog but becomes an ally and a friend in The Leopard and The Lady. In Gods of Nabban, the story follows Ahjvar and Ghu back to Nabban, where Ghu becomes the heart of a religious war, and Ivah and the devil Yeh-Lin also head east independently to encounter them again. Moth only wanders into that story at the end, but the devil Jochiz makes himself the enemy of Ahjvar and Ghu and much of what he is subtly doing under the surface of political events in Gods of Nabban becomes important in The Last Road.

- The final novel, The Last Road, will soon be published by Pyr. What can readers expect from it?

The Last Road gathers up all the threads of the stories from the previous books (and the short story “The Storyteller” as well) and brings them back to the central pattern, the conflict between the devils and the Old Great Gods. For the characters who’ve survived into this story, and the new ones who only enter it now, it’s a time of great hardship and testing. The existence of the gods and goddesses of the lands along the caravan road is being threatened. The All-Holy, the incarnate god of the mystery religion that has been lurking quietly in the west all along, is leading an army of fanatics eastward, destroying the very gods of the lands he conquers as he comes, converting and enslaving their folk. His aim may be Marakand, the city at the meeting of the eastern and western roads, but he has a personal hatred for the god of Nabban and his consort, so Ghu and Ahjvar do not believe he means to stop even once he controls all the west. Moth may be the only one who could stand against him alone, but she no longer bears the black sword Lakkariss, and why that is, is a central part of this story. It’s a darker and grimmer book than those that came before, but Moth, Mikki, Ahjvar, Yeh-Lin, Holla-Sayan, and even Ghu, bound physically though he is to his own land of Nabban, come to stand together against this approaching darkness, which is something I think readers have been hoping for.

- Could you tell us something about the protagonists in The Last Road? What kind of characters are they?

The protagonists of The Last Road are gods, devils, demons, and ordinary human folk. One thing that unites them is that they are all people who understand that they have to take a stand against what is coming against them -- that gods and land and humanfolk are all threatened with destruction and that there can be no temporizing, no negotiation, no slipping away to wait it out. The devil Moth, whose thread is the one linking all the stories of the caravan road, is a very quiet character. She’s someone who made some bad choices long ago, and whether she regrets them or not isn’t clear, but now she’s dealing with the consequences. For a long time she tried to withdraw from the world and any responsibility to it, but here she has to choose what matters to her above all else, and that choice shapes everything that follows. Holla-Sayan, the former caravan guard possessed by the Blackdog, is reconciled to his nature now, but he is still a Westgrasslander, and his long friendship with Sayan, the god of his land, has become something different from the ordinary bond between a mortal human and their god. Though he comes to fight with his people as their land falls to the All-Holy, there are other forces trying to claim him. Ghu and Ahjvar have evolved since Gods of Nabban; they’re more closely intertwined than ever, and though Ghu can’t leave Nabban, he sees no choice but to send Ahjvar out to be his champion, even against an enemy capable of destroying them both, because not to act, not to defend the larger world beyond his borders, is something Ghu is incapable of doing. Yeh-Lin, the devil who swore herself to Ghu, really comes into her own in this book; she’s a person who has found a great love of life itself over the years, and now that joy in living that she has claimed for herself is threatened. And there are new, human characters as well, three ordinary young people whose paths cross those of Holla-Sayan, Yeh-Lin, and Ahjvar respectively, and who, though already enmeshed in the war in various ways, find themselves drawn into deeper matters.

- What kind of magic can readers find in The Last Road?

There are different kinds of magic in the world of the caravan road. The wizards of each land have evolved their own traditions for shaping the magic of the earth that flows through them and have their own related forms of divination as well. Runes, cat’s-cradles, stones, song, dance, symbolic plants, are all ways in which wizards’ magic is channelled. There is also the magic natural to the gods and goddesses of the earth and their close kin, the demons, which is simply expressed through their will, though they are far from omnipotent; it mostly takes the form of knowing and understanding, although the god of Nabban has shown himself capable of killing -- or perhaps it is a case of being willing to kill -- by severing soul from body. The seven devils, being human wizards in their origin, practise the magic of their respective folk, but the devils are also able to reach for the powers inherent in their nature, though drawing on those too much takes a toll on the life of the world around them. It isn’t a power meant to be expressed in this physical realm. The combination of human wizardry with divinity or deviltry is proving to be potentially a very dangerous thing.

- Will you be writing more novels that take place in the world of this fantasy series?

I don’t think it’s likely that I’ll write any more novels set in the world of the caravan road, although there are some stories left untold. Those might find a way out in short stories some day. But I’ve been living on the caravan road a long time now and artistically, I feel it’s time to move on to something new. I’ve done most of what I wanted to do with it and all the main characters’ stories have come to their natural resting place, a good way to leave them.

- Is there anything you'd like to add?

Writing Gods of the Caravan Road was an intense journey, and not always an easy one. I’m very glad that so many readers have wanted to travel with me and my gang on that road, and I hope that you’ll be with us for this one last adventure.