Published by Two Lions on August 18th 2015
Buy on Amazon
Ronan Truelove barely survived his first encounter with his father and the Bend Sinister. Now, he’s determined to become one of the Blood Guard, a sword-wielding secret society sworn to protect thirty-six pure souls crucial to the world’s survival.Eager to prove he’s got what it takes, Ronan is sent on his first mission with his friends Greta and Sammy to visit a weird-sounding school and take a series of tests called the Glass Gauntlet. Paper and pencils and nerdy scholarship—where’s the life-or-death challenge in that?But the Glass Gauntlet is actually something much more dangerous: head-to-head competitions against ruthless opponents. Nothing and no one are what they seem. Who can he trust, and who will kill him? Ronan has to figure it out fast because his enemies are multiplying, and soon he will have to pass the ultimate test: facing his father again and standing up to those who threaten not only him and his friends but also the world.
Interview with Carter Roy
Q: Where did you get the idea for The Blood Guard series?
A: About fifteen years ago I was working on another writer’s novel (a book which is nothing like The Blood Guard), and in that story someone mentioned the idea of the “thirty-six righteous ones.” This intrigued me, so I did some research on it.
While The Blood Guard series is fiction, the notion of the thirty-six is real. According to the traditional belief system called Kabbalah, there exist thirty-six special people whose purity of soul redeems the rest of humanity. (Kabbalistic folklore calls them tzaddikim or nistarim, though elsewhere—and in my books—they are known as the thirty-six Pure.) If the souls of enough of these pure ones were somehow to be extinguished, our world would supposedly come to an end.
Q: When you wrote the first book, had you already mapped out the plot of the entire series? What challenges did you face in writing the second book, in terms of furthering the overall story arc?
A: Middle books are tricky, it’s true. It’s a challenge, of course, because the larger story can’t be wrapped up quite yet, though readers still want to feel as though a story has been brought to conclusion.
I confess I tried to have it both ways with The Glass Gauntlet. The larger story from the first book is still present, but initially, it seems our heroes are on an independent mission. Of course, that’s only an illusion—they are collecting tools and experiences they’ll need for Book Three, and soon enough events dovetail with the larger story line. But at least on some level the story should feel like a bit of a stand-alone story.
So there are a few new challenges, and some new characters, as well as some who turn out not to be so new at all, but in fact an old character in disguise—someone the reader has already met once before. That character pushes one thread of the larger story forward, even though the full implications of her role won’t be realized until book three.
Q: What can you tell us about the Glass Gauntlet itself?
A: It is both a contest for teens—a series of ruthless tests the purpose of which isn’t clear, like some sort of low-rent Hunger Games. And it is also, our heroes discover, an actual object that the winner of the contest is given as a prize. The Gauntlet is a glove made of Pyrex-like glass pieces veined with copper wiring that, when assembled, allow the wielder to manipulate a person’s soul. It is a Victorian-era bit of technology that mimics in some ways the Eye of the Needle device from the first entry in the series, and its creation is rooted in the start of the Bend Sinister and the history of the Blood Guard itself. The story of how this device came to be in the possession of Agatha Glass is the first part of the story of how the Blood Guard and Bend Sinister came to be. (Something that will be further explored in the third book.)
Q: It would seem that all sorts of readers will relate well to Ronan. He seems ordinary, but proves himself to be anything but – in spite of himself. Is there anyone or anything in particular you drew upon while creating his character? How has Ronan changed from when we first met him in The Blood Guard?
A: The whole impetus for Ronan—his background, his wonky skillset, his personality—was that as a reader, I have been missing adventures about normal boys. That is, about boys like I was when I was that age. So many fantasy adventures of the past decade have been about kids who are special before they have done anything at all. Their abilities are an accident of birth, and come about because their parents were demigods or wizards or some prophecy has predicted that he or she is The One who will save the kingdom/the school/the world.
Don’t get me wrong: I love those novels. But, you know, that excludes the entirety of the readership from identifying with the protagonist. As a kid reader, I wanted to believe that the adventure could happen to me. Unlikely, yes, and stretching the definition of “possible,” but still: I always craved stories about kids like myself who were lifted out of their boring day-to-day lives and given opportunities to prove themselves worthy.
The second entry in the series finds Ronan struggling to actually be a hero. It turns out to be not nearly as easy as it seems from the outside. It’s not simply about beating up on bad guys. For one thing, Ronan often has to take action without knowing quite what he’s doing. Leadership, it turns out, is difficult. For another, he ends up taking a backseat to Greta, who is proving herself to have more pluck and determination than he. Which is as it should be, after all: a guard guards; he’s not the star of the show. It’s not quite what he’d thought it was going to be.
Q: We learn that Ronan’s father is a bad guy in the first book, and then see how bad he is in the second. What was it like writing from the perspective of a young boy who has to come to terms with that?
A: In some ways, it was familiar: My own father, it so happens, turned out to be a very bad guy (in a much different way from Ronan’s). As a teen, I felt an overwhelming urge to become somebody else—anybody not his son. I didn’t want to be associated with him or anything like him, and that drove me to “rebel” in a way that led me to who I am today. I am the polar opposite of him in just about every way.
While I don’t know that I capture the same depth of feeling I felt as a kid—Ronan’s story is, pretty obviously, more of a melodramatic action-adventure, and not a close psychological study—I did want to get a little bit of what I felt as a teen. A fear of being no more than his father’s son, a burning desire to prove himself better than his father. In the real world, that meant trying to live a better life. In this kind of story, that conflict is made literal: Ronan has to literally get the better of his father. He half-succeeds this time around—but that only strengthens his resolve for next time.
Q: Where did the character of Jack Dawkins come from?
A: He’s sort of “borrowed” from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. But as my story took shape, Dawkins’ character changed more and more, until he stopped being recognizable as the character from Oliver Twist and very much became his own person. My character of Dawkins began to insist that he actually had known Dickens, and that he’d told Dickens his story while sharing a pint in a public house. Because he also lifted Dickens’ purse, the writer later got his vengeance, creating a shady character bearing Jack’s name (if not quite the shadiest character in that great book).
Q: You were a children’s book editor for years before you became a writer yourself. What did you learn from being on the business side of book publishing that’s helped you as an author?
A: Something occasionally overlooked on the adult side of publishing (I’ve worked in both realms), but which becomes very obvious very fast to a children’s book editor is that story, character, plot—these things trump more literary considerations. Younger readers won’t stick with a book because they’re interested in the point the author is making with his or her style; or because the novel is in dialogue with the current state of literature; or because the writer has delicately rendered the contradictions inherent in urban anomie—or whatever. It’s all about story, character, momentum, and feeling something.
A novel ideally has more going on and deeper concerns, of course, but those of necessity take a back seat to the reason we all became readers in the first place: We absolutely need to know what happens next.
Q: Kids today are inundated with technology – from handheld video games to smartphones to television. How can books compete? Any suggestions for parents, teachers and librarians who are trying to encourage kids to read more?
A: This question really is the modern dilemma, isn’t it? I am someone who is distracted at all times by all sorts of media—books, movies, television, video games, theater, music, and more—and, thanks to my Kindle, I’ve come to see books as an option. No more and no less. Thanks to the advent of ebooks, reading is now as modern a choice of distraction as the latest tablet game or movie. Nothing kills a medium as swiftly as being pegged “high-brow” or “artisanal” or “difficult to master.”
That seems key to me, the shepherding of reading into modern technology. Because reading as a popular pastime isn’t really all that old. We take it for granted that it is this thing that is a bedrock of civilization, blah blah, but six hundred years ago, the idea that a common person would sit and silently stare at a stack of paper for hours at a time? Insanity.
But now books are equal to anything else on a tablet computer, and so reading can sneak in with the games of Angry Birds and the viewings of Frozen. So long as kids’ novels deliver the goods—a compelling thriller, a heart-wrenching love story, a complex mystery, a reliable stream of laughs, what-have-you—kids will read.
And as we all know from experience, once you get hooked on reading by a good book, you begin to make a habit of it.
Q: What have you found particularly appeals to boys about your series? And the girls?
A: The boy readers who have contacted me respond to the nonstop action of the story, and to the more humorous bits. (Usually in the form of Jack Dawkins’ dialogue.) Some tell me they identify with Ronan, which pleases me enormously, because I really did want him to be just any boy. The girls I’ve heard from mention liking that Greta isn’t stereotypically “girly,” and that she is every bit the equal of the boys in this story. “She seems like a real person,” wrote one reader, which is about the best bit of praise I’ve ever received.
Q: Can you give us a preview of what’s next for Ronan and the Blood Guard in Book 3?
A: I had a planned arc for the series when I first began writing the first book, but I learned a few things about the heart of the story as I wrote it, and that plan has changed. Though the surface struggle is Ronan’s fight with the Bend Sinister, the more interesting dilemma—and the one that will prove Ronan has come into his own—has to do with his friend Greta. Is he her friend? Or her protector? Can he be both? If not, which is ultimately more important? And is that old saw “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” actually true? Or is there a greater need that trumps that idea? (Hint: Ronan decides that there is.)
Ronan, Greta, and the rest of the team return to Brooklyn to try and reach her mom before Ronan’s dad and the Bend Sinister get to her. There are games of cat and mouse on the subway, surprising revelations about the Blood Guard itself, and, at the climax of the book, a confrontation between Ronan and his dad—an epic face-off atop the suspension cables of the Brooklyn Bridge.