Jon Monson - Fast-Paced Epic Fantasy
Jon Monson is an American epic fantasy author from Salt Lake City, Utah. He is known for his Sun and the Raven trilogy, which won the 2019 Best Indie Book Award for Fantasy. Jon is happiest when immersed in the fantasy worlds he so lovingly creates. When he pulls himself back into the real world, Jon loves spending time exploring the wilderness of southern Utah where he lives with his wife and two daughters. As our Author of the Day, he tells us about his book, The Final Heir.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Final Heir is about.
The Final Heir begins when the villain wins. After decades of war, Mahzun—the Usurper, the Destroyer of Worlds—conquers the last group of plucky rebels holding out against him. Zahara and Ekarath—the heroes of the story—escape from this battle with the key to defeating Mahzun.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
While I love purely evil villains (Sauron from Lord of the Rings, The Dark One from Wheel of Time, etc.), I’ve become obsessed with the morally grey villain. Humans tend to think of themselves as “good” as they try to classify people who disagree with them as dumb, crazy, or evil. I wanted to explore a polarized world where both the heroes and the villain have solid points, and there are passionately committed adherents on both sides.
Your story starts where the villain wins. Why did you take this approach?
I really wanted to explore the reaction of a character who has finally achieved something after decades of struggle. Mahzun isn’t just the villain; he’s one of three point-of-view characters. For years, he’s been completely focused on destroying the Heirs and liberating the common man. Now, he has to settle in and actually rule the land that he conquered. That alone was really fun to write. And of course, it raises the stakes for the heroes. When the whole world has been conquered, how do you resist?
Why epic fantasy? What drew you to the genre?
I’ve always loved fantasy. From a young age, I read The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. When I got older, I started reading Brandon Sanderson, Brian McClellan, and Robert Jordan. I also really love history and historical fiction. Epic fantasy kind of combines the two: you have magical worlds and massive stakes. At first, it honestly didn’t occur to me to write anything other than epic fantasy. Over the years, I’ve begun to considered branching out to cozy fantasy or alternative history. We’ll see.
Interesting cover. Please tell us more about it.
My talented wife is my cover designer. We collaborate very closely on every aspect, from the first brainstorming session to the final edits of the cover. Overall, we wanted a sense of mystery and wonder. The shadowy character on the front represents our hero, the Final Heir. The griffin looking down is named Aiya. Her soul is bound to the villain. They communicate telepathically and have my favorite relationship in the entire book. The griffin represents Mahzun, both in the world and on the cover.
Tell us more about Mahzun. What makes him tick?
Mahzun doesn’t see himself as a usurper or a destroyer. He sees himself as the Savior of Man, a figure destined to liberate the people of Einar from millennia of tyranny. He understands that his wars have killed millions. He understands that blood is on his hands. Yet he firmly believes in his cause, and no sacrifice is too great if it means the end of the Heirs.
He's not the kind of leader to make others sacrifice while he lives in splendor. He wields the Eternal Blade, a sword that nearly destroys him with each use. His skin is covered in scars, and he’s disfigured from the years of war. Upon his victory, the luxury of the palace makes him squirm more than any amount of deprivation he experienced while on campaign.
Yet he’s not simply a hardened, jaded warrior. He truly cares about people. His sister runs his empire, and his griffin is not merely a slave. Moreover, he truly wants what’s best for the people. He just doesn’t understand what that is.
Readers say this book is fast-paced from beginning to end. How did you pull this off?
First of all, I avoid info dumps at all costs. I sprinkle in the exposition, giving the reader only what they need to know when they need to know it. This does cause frustration for some readers, and I get that.
Second, I spend a decent amount of time creating my beat sheet and outline. This helps me to avoid meandering chapters that don’t really add to the plot. If anyone is trying to write their first (or tenth) novel, I fully recommend Save the Cat Writes a Novel. It has saved me on more than one occasion.
Your characters are relatable and realistic. Are they inspired by people you know?
I generally stay away from copying people I know. That can lead to some uncomfortable situations. I will say that I often base characters off of the idealized version of myself. Ekarath and I share a lot of traits—both of us lack confidence in certain areas while excelling in others. The biggest difference between the two of us is that Ekarath is great with a sword.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
My strangest habit is that I enjoy writing my entire series before publishing anything. I realize some people have feelings about that: you never know if a series will be successful, so they argue you shouldn’t waste time on sequels if book 1 flops. However, writing the full series helps me come to know the world, characters, and story on a level that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
As far as my standard writing day goes, it’s pretty short. I have two kids and a full-time job. I usually set aside 30 to 60 minutes…but sometimes that time goes to marketing or other administrative activities. When I do write, I usually put on headphones and I listen to either Bach or Two Steps from Hell. I block out the world as much as possible and just write.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a novella that will be free to my mailing list. It features a young Mahzun, and one of his adventures in the Northern Wilds. It’s still in the early stages, but so far, I’m absolutely loving it.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I have a pretty deep aversion towards social media, so the best way to interact with me is to join my mailing list and check out my website at jonmonson.com. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, I’ll occasionally post something.