Hannah Kaner chats the relationship between humans and gods in Godkiller
Godkiller is Hannah Kaner's debut novel
Kissen’s family were killed by zealots of a fire god. Now, she makes a living being a godkiller. That is until she finds a god she cannot kill: Skedi, a god of white lies, has somehow bound himself to a young girl called Inara. Godkiller is Hannah Kaner’s debut and we have the honour of chatting with her today on her epic fantasy novel.
Can you share with us whether Godkiller is based on any folklore?
Godkiller isn’t based on any specific folklore, but aspects of Celtic, Norse, German and Greek folklore and mythology snuck their way into the book. For example, Skediceth, the god of white lies is based on the German Wolpertinger, a fable used to baffle newcomers. It’s not dissimilar to the Scottish Haggis. If you go to the highlands you might find one, one leg shorter than the other, running around the hills. . .
There are other nods to folklore, like Herne the Hunter, Irish wishing trees, leaving milk and gifts out for brownies, or spring festivals. I wanted the world to feel grounded, the gods real and recognisable, like you were just a breath away from them.
When you were creating the cities, ruined or not, which cities from real life or fantasy worlds were on your mood board?
Oh so many – I delved into stories of centres of trade and culture. Alexandria, Baghdad, Cairo, Palermo, Constantinople, Venice, you might have noticed some of Venice and perhaps Cambridge in Lesscia, the city of knowledge.
And then, Blenraden, the lost city, has its roots in fallen Troy, torn apart by the gods bickering and using humans as pawns in a game of power.
Are/were you religious? Has writing the Godkiller changed how you felt about the role of deities in our world?
I am not religious, but faith is a complicated part of my family and its history, Irish Catholic, Jewish, atheist, we’re an argumentative mix, and full of love.
There are so many aspects to faith that I respect and value; the community it can bring, the sense of belonging and protection it can afford. It has also formed a huge part of our history, the creation of and protection of knowledge, the telling of stories or access to learning.
But religion also has the potential to hurt as well as heal, to isolate or exclude as much as welcome, to dogmatise and stigmatise.
So my feelings on faith and religion are extremely complicated. If anything, writing Godkiller has made them even more so.
Everyone’s loving the complex relationship between the humans and the gods in Godkiller. How did you decide the way humans and gods coexist and feed off each other in Godkiller?
This was delightful to think through, and isn’t without precedent. Octavia E. Butler in Parable of the Sower explores the idea that people shape god. Books by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett play and expand on concepts in their own way of gods being created and preserved by peoples’ faith. And then in myths humans and gods have a complex relationship, the capriciousness of gods and their power drags humans in their wake.
I took similar ideas and ran with them in my own direction, taking them to a different extreme. What is an offering? What is a sacrifice? What gives them power and form, and what then takes it away?
Establishing the rules of this lore impacted so many things; the drive of the narrative, the experiences of the characters and who they become.
In Godkiller, we have 4 POVs. Was it an easy decision to make?
It wasn’t easy. Narratively, the story is so tightly bound to the quest I wasn’t sure I would be able to do more than one point of view justice. I originally tried it only from Kissen’s thoughts, I even tried it in first person. It was enjoyable, feisty, but it didn’t feel right.
As I developed the different characters, I wanted them to be foils to each other, their own drives to be understandable without thickening the plot too much. Bringing out their voices individually allowed me to round out the quest they were on into an emotional one.
And how did you ensure their voices are distinct even when the characters might be together for the majority of the book?
Those separate emotional journeys mean that even when the characters are at the same table, they’re bringing something completely different to it. Elo has a classic quest, Inara is coming of age, Kissen is constantly on a kind of vengeance path, and Skedi is closer to a fable with some moral lessons he has to learn (or not).
Technique wise, third person limited point of view gives a lot of flexibility around how much distinction you can bring between the voices while still retaining a consistent narrative pattern.
Kissen is brash, angry, and a quick thinker, so her sentences are often short, her paragraphs shorter, all adorned with a nice helping of swears.
Elogast is much more internal, brooding. He has a wry sense of humour as well as intrusive memories and flashbacks, so it was quite brutal to pair his careful thinking with invasive memory.
Inara is a little more uncertain, and everything is a new experience. So a lot of her experience is absorbing the world around her, and this is where her narrative focusses; what she sees, hears and learns.
Then Skediceth, the god, is not human. He takes a defensive stance that comes out in his voice; the world is, quite literally, out to get him, so he’s more interested in people versus himself, how to find a way to manipulate and change his fate.
Finally, there was no big coming out moment, nor a big discussion on Kissen’s disability. More books should do this! How did you balance between not making these the focal point, but still doing a well-rounded representation of being queer and being disabled?
I think there is no limit on the ways stories can be told, and there are so many ways to tell them. Those stories of coming out, or stories that focus on the journey of someone’s relationship with their disability, are still so important, and own voices writers should be encouraged and supported to speak to their experiences.
This particular story isn’t about Kissen’s disability, nor about her queerness. Those are just aspects of who she is. Her queerness I wrote from my own perspective, and a place of righteous anger that there should be stories where to be queer is no crime, to be a woman is no frailty. That we should be able to find ourselves in worlds where we’re not constantly under threat or isolated just for existing authentically.
Then, as I developed the lore of the gods and Kissen’s backstory, I knew she would have to lose something of great value as a sacrifice, and that would mean that she would have a disability. I knew also that I wanted to write Elo as a knight who had retired, who has experienced terrible things, and that his PTSD would have an impact on who he was, the decisions that he made.
So, understanding I was writing disabled characters, I also had a responsibility to do it well.
I did a lot of research, and committed time to understanding the experience and frustrations disabled readers have when reading fantasy, and worked closely with authenticity editors. A lot of it connected with my own irritations; often disabled characters don’t exist, or if they do, they are isolated and pitied, they’re ‘fixed’, or they’re criminalised. It was essential for Kissen to have a community that understood and loved her exactly as she is, for her to be joyful and love her disabled body.
And for Elo, whose trauma and pride has led him to create isolation around himself, despite and maybe because of his huge capacity to care. His journey needed in some way to be towards love, towards self love, and self value.
More and more, the landscape of fantasy is changing. There are so many incredible diverse books, by diverse writers, who are kicking down walls and creating new space for stories. I feel so honoured to be even a small part of this pantheon, and I know there are so many more tales to tell.
Get a copy of Godkiller here.