An Interview With Taran Matharu

Taran Matharu has been obsessed with stories from a young age. So it’s only natural he turned to writing. He is the author of the Summoner series of young adult fantasy novels and Dragon Rider, the first book in the Soulbond Saga. We loved this adventurous epic fantasy – and had the chance to speak to Taran in advance of publication.

Cover of Dragon Rider[GdM] Can you pitch Dragon Rider in one or two sentences for our readers?

[TM] Dragon Rider blends the complex and violent politics of Game of Thrones, the warrior-in-training and dragon relationships of Eragon, and a magic system inspired by the burgeoning cultivation genre, where the characters soulbond with beasts, cultivate mana, and ascend to greater levels of power.

[GdM] We love dragons – I think I can speak for the entire Grimdark Magazine team here – but what appeals to you specifically about them, what made you fall in love with them?

[TM] Dragons symbolize the ultimate blend of might and mystery, evoking the power of the ancient and wild unknown. And I can’t imagine a more majestic and powerful mount to ride into battle.

[GdM] Has the writing and publication process for Dragon Rider been very different to what you went through for your earlier, YA, books?

[TM] I’ve really enjoyed the transition to adult fantasy. With my YA books, I always kept younger readers in mind, drawing from the passions of my youth – especially in terms of its themes and the level of violence and complexity. In shedding those constraints I can explore grittier territory, more morally ambiguous characters, and new avenues of worldbuilding.

[GdM] Dragon Rider still has a lot of crossover appeal. Have your interactions with your readers changed? Have you actively noticed a shift in audience?

[TM] The change has not been so noticeable, although it’s still quite early in the book’s release. I think this is partly because I’ve found that many, if not most of my YA book readers are adults, which is not uncommon in the YA space. But I have found some of my teen audience asking me if Dragon Rider is appropriate for older teens – a difficult question to answer!

[GdM] Frieda and Jai are both unfamiliar with the world around them and how to interact with it. What was the draw of writing characters who, for a range of reasons, don’t quite know how to navigate their surroundings?

[TM] I’ve always loved fish-out-of-water characters, both from a writer’s perspective and that of a reader. The audience are brought on the same journey of discovery as the characters are, and it certainly makes it more straightforward for the reader to learn about the world. I also particularly enjoy how a fresh perspective can often allow such characters to beat their competition at their own game. 

[GdM] Grouchy mentor is one of my favourite tropes in fiction. And Rufus fills that role brilliantly in Dragon Rider – can you tell us a bit more about him and how he was conceived?

[TM] Rufus might be described an amalgamation of all my favorite grouchy mentors, in life and fiction both, so I’m glad that came across! It’s far more compelling to see the winning over of a reluctant teacher, than one who is kind and caring from the outset. 

[GdM] I found Dragon Rider to have a video game energy about it. It struck me how you were quantifying magic and its use with levels of soulbonding and an energy core that needs to charge. What were your intentions with this?

[TM] Progression fantasy is a growing niche that traditional publishers can’t fill fast enough, and Dragon Rider falls into its subgenre of cultivation — where its hard magic systems are inspired by Chinese wuxia. I’ve always been a fan of these systems, and my Summoner series also included quantifiable levels of power where magic was a finite resource. Another subgenre I enjoy is LitRPG – where the magic system is aligned with video game-like rules, often in a Ready Player One like VR game.

[GdM] While it is primarily a fun adventure, Dragon Rider has a strong political element that we only touch on during the story so far. Can you tell us a bit more about the world and the tensions inherent in the interactions of different powers?

[TM] When creating the main character in Dragon Rider, I was inspired by the life of Atilla the Hun. Jai is the prince of a subjugated people, raised in the court of his enemies, serving at the feet of the emperor who executed his father. And much like Atilla, Jai hopes to one day return to his people with everything he’s learned, and take his revenge. Much of the politics of that world can be seen through that lens, and also serve as the foundation for a violent wedding scene that becomes known in the world of Dragon Rider as the Black Rehearsal. 

[GdM] Do you have any favourite dragon stories to recommend to our audience? Or any media that has really stood out to you recently, more generally?

[TM] If folks enjoy my Dragon Rider series, I think they’d enjoy a book by my friend Michael R. Miller, another cultivation dragon rider fantasy that has taken Amazon by storm. It follows the story of kitchen boy Holt, and the blind dragon hatchling he rescues, Ash.

[Editor’s note: The book referred to here is Ascendant by Michael R. Miller]

[GdM] And finally, can you tell us anything about what you’re currently working on?

[TM] I’m currently working on editing the sequel for Dragon Rider, and have just started writing the final book in the series. I’m also travelling around the UK soon, signing at any Waterstones that’ll have me!

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.