September 30, 2016

Never Tell Me the Odds: a guest post by Gregory A. Wilson, author of "Grayshade"

by Gregory A. Wilson

I admit to being a sucker for the “one against the world” story: the idea of an overwhelming array of resources brought to bear by a large organization or government against one individual—an individual who, to quote Liam Neeson, has “special skills,” skills good enough to counterbalance that overwhelming resource disadvantage. As a kid I occasionally watched a strange show in reruns on PBS called The Prisoner, about a top secret agent (played by Patrick McGoohan) who angrily resigns from his post and is promptly kidnapped and sent to a bizarre island resort, where he is given a number (Six) and placed under permanent surveillance. Number Six is never able to escape, and the odds are completely stacked against him—yet the balance is almost equal, because his talents, abilities, and personality make him capable of fighting back. There is a righteous defiance about Six that I’ve always admired, and it serves him well in the show.

There are many other examples of this kind, of course—Kiss of the Dragon, La Femme Nikita, Enemy of the State, various incarnations of James Bond or Mission Impossible. But the two which had the most profound effect on my own work was Jason Bourne, particularly the film series, and the mid-80s television show The Equalizer. Bourne, played brilliantly in the films by Matt Damon, is a near-perfect assassin, gifted with the best training and access to high tech equipment, but he also has a conscience; after his amnesiac experience, he begins to want to make up for the terrible things he has done by exposing those who ordered him to do it. Seemingly the entire weight of the American intelligence apparatus is thrown against him, yet he not only survives but brings the fight to his superiors in deeply satisfactory ways. In The Equalizer, Robert McCall (Edward Woodward in his finest role) is tired of the sacrifices he has always had to make for his position as a member of “the Agency,” and steps down not simply to get away but to atone for his mistakes by helping the innocent. What makes the show brilliant is not simply the widely varying stories told in the process of helping those people, but how it weaves McCall’s humanity through those stories. McCall is a broken person, after all, an outwardly charming exterior concealing a savage and violent internal life—yet he never gives up, never continues to make attempts at redemption, even when the Agency itself is opposed to him.

Part of what I love about these stories is the resourcefulness of the characters, their ability to be more agile and adaptable than the massive organizations they face. For all of their assets, the organizations are by definition bureaucratic, and that means inefficiency and miscommunication—the larger the organization’s size, the more difficult it is to track down and destroy an intelligent and determined individual with knowledge of the organization’s inner workings, or at least of its motivations. But these tales also tap into our appreciation for the underdog and our general distrust of faceless, powerful entities—even if, in some cases, we work for such an entity ourselves.

My new novel Grayshade, first book in The Gray Assassin Trilogy, springs from my interest in such tales. The protagonist is an Acolyte in the Order of Argoth, the Just God, a religious organization with a great deal of power and influence in the independent city-state of Cohrelle. For ten years Grayshade, the most skilled Acolyte in the Service (for want of a better term, the Order’s special operations team), has eliminated targets at the direction of the Order’s ruling Council, assigned by the head of the Service, Father Jant. His record is flawless. But at the beginning of the tale, a mission doesn’t proceed exactly as planned, and soon he finds himself uncertain of the Order he once served without question. When his faith wavers, his quest to reclaim it may consume the entire city.

Like the lead characters of the stories above, Grayshade faces an implacable and unmerciful organization during the course of the novel, commanding political influence and filled with highly skilled and loyal assassins. But Grayshade knows the inner workings of the Order and the Service, understands its methods and procedures, and is cognizant of the chain of command. So a balance exists, on a knife’s point: which direction that balance ultimately tips will determine the outcome of Grayshade’s story, and many others in and outside of Cohrelle.

Of course, there are other themes at work in the novel—faith, redemption, the intersection between religion and politics, and so on. But one of the most pronounced themes is the battle between individuals and organizations, a conflict in which I’m not anxious to choose sides. Organizations serve very valuable purposes, after all, and can do a great deal of good in both fictional worlds and our own. And I am suspicious of the “one man army” approach, which smacks of violent glorification and libertarian selfishness (to say nothing of conspiracy theories). But the concept remains compelling—one individual against the state/institution/corporation, with the soul of a populace at stake. It’s one which I try to render both complexly and entertainingly in Grayshade.

ABOUT GREGORY A. WILSON'S GRAYSHADE - For fans of Brent Weeks and Brandon Sanderson comes this anticipated dark fantasy spy thriller about a crisis of faith.

For ten years the assassin Grayshade has eliminated threats to the Order of Argoth, the Just God. The Acolytes of Argoth are silent and lethal enforcers of the Order’s will within the sprawling city of Cohrelle, whose own officials must quietly bow to the Order’s authority while publicly distancing themselves from its actions.

Grayshade is the supreme executor of the Order’s edicts, its best trained and most highly respected agent. But when a mission doesn’t go as planned, Grayshade starts to question the authority and motives of his superiors; and as he investigates, he soon finds himself the target of the very Order he once served without question. Now it will take all of Grayshade’s skill, intuition, and cunning to find the answers he seeks…if he can stay alive.

Part mystery, part spy thriller, Grayshade is the story of a religious assassin whose faith is the only thing holding his world together. And when it wavers, his quest to regain it may consume the entire city.

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