Sharon Shinn has been thrilling science fiction and fantasy readers for over 20 years with her numerous novels, most recently in the Elemental Blessings series. But just because she's a veteran writer of prose doesn't mean she's out of surprises, because her recent book isn't prose at all.
Releasing this month from First Second, Shattered Warrior is the author's first foray into graphic novels. The book is set on a world that has been invaded and occupied by an alien race called the Derichet, who've come to pillage the world's supply of a rare element. They've upended the social order of the planet and set its people to work in mines and factories, but where there's oppression there's resistance, and that's where Shattered Warrior finds its story.
Of course, Shinn isn't doing this alone. She's co-created this book with Molly Knox Ostertag, an up-and-coming artist who has built a devoted following of her own with her web comic Strong Female Protagonist. Her artwork is fluid and expressive, and she breathes life into this strange yet familiar world and its lovelorn inhabitants.
I had a chance to ask both of the women behind this wonderful new book a few questions about their experience working on it, which you can find below, along with a four-page preview of Shattered Warrior. Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments, and be sure to check out the graphic novel when it releases later this month.
Pretend I've never heard of or read Shattered Warrior before (I have though, it was great), how would you sell me on the book?
Sharon Shinn: It's a love story set against the backdrop of war. It's about dealing with loss, stumbling across joy, and learning to fight for what you believe in, all within the context of a science fiction/fantasy tale. So it's got romance and danger and a secret resistance … and aliens. I'd read that book!
Molly Knox Ostertag: It's a lush and grounded science fiction story about survival, hope, and family in a crumbling world.
Sharon, being your first work in comics, what separated Shattered Warrior from your previous works that made you want to have the story told visually?
Sharon: This just seemed to be a story that would adapt well to the medium. There were so many elements that I thought would be enhanced by artwork—the great house fallen to ruins, the half-bombed city, the street gangs with their colorful tattoos, the aliens, the explosions. It all seemed very dramatic, and hence very visual.
How much did the story evolve as you worked in the new medium, and as Molly drew it?
Sharon: The basic structure of the story stayed the same, but there were a lot of permutations of my original script! A number of scenes got jettisoned or combined to move the action along more quickly, and the third section got reworked considerably to give Molly more to work with in terms of action that could be displayed better on the page. I tend to be a fairly lush writer, with lots of flourishes and descriptions, so it was a really interesting learning experience for me to see how many words could be dispensed with, how much I could rely on the art to tell the story, and how many connecting scenes really weren't necessary at all.
Molly, how did you come to be involved with Shattered Warrior and what made it a story you wanted to tell?
Molly: First Second reached out to me right after I graduated from SVA and was interested in drawing a graphic novel. I love stories centered on women so it was immediately interesting to me. Visually, I have a soft spot in my heart for dystopias and crumbling civilizations. I was living in New York at the time and there was something fun about taking inspiration from my daily surroundings and then drawing them in ruins. I also liked having a chance to develop how the different people and aliens of the book appear.
The setup of an oppressed people having their status quo upended by invaders and fighting back could be an analogue for any number of events currently or historically. Did you look to any particular places or periods for inspiration in this story?
Sharon: I've always thought of this as my Casablanca story, so definitely I was thinking about the French resistance during WWII. But the backdrop of war — any war — always heightens dramatic tension, I think. Everything you love is suddenly at risk, so everything becomes more precious. Every decision is fraught with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Shattered Warrior is definitely a science fiction story, but visually it has a lot of fantasy aspects, particularly in the look of the alien Derichets. What were the influences guided where you'd lean more heavily into fantasy or into sci-fi?
Molly: Sharon had a pretty clear idea of what the Derichets looked like, so I followed that. I do love the intersection of fantasy and sci-fi, aesthetically. My favorite science fiction feels very grounded, as though everything has story and history behind it, and I wanted to get at that with the settings. Everything has been repurposed to serve this conquering force but there are memories everywhere of the world left behind, a world similar to ours in many ways.
I really enjoyed the flashback sequences where you shifted into a different, more colorful style. Can you explain how you decided upon that approach, and how your process differed for those pages?
Molly: Colleen's reality is dismal and impoverished. I used a mostly muted palette and lots of environmental detail to really bring that home for the viewer. Colleen can never forget how difficult the world she lives in is. But she also has childhood memories of a life of luxury, and I wanted to render these in a kind of idealized, fairy-tale way.
What character in Shattered Warrior do you relate most with?
Sharon: Colleen, but I think that's who most readers would identify with. She's basically the ordinary person caught up in extraordinary times. She's managed to build a world for herself that seems safe, even though nothing is safe, but when the right circumstances arise, she steps outside of that comfortable place and risks everything.
Molly: I'm not sure, but I do really sympathize with Colleen. I'm kind of fascinated with stories of dystopias and apocalypses and the idea that the luxuries we think of as commonplace might someday be gone. When we first meet her, Colleen is just trying to survive and forget the life she used to have, which I think I would do too if I was in a similar situation.
This book works as a satisfying standalone tale, but do you have more stories in this world that you'd like to tell?
Sharon: Sci-fi writer Kay Kenyon once said that books should end in such a way that you believe the characters are going off to live interesting lives even once the story is over. So I'd be content to end the story here. But I must say I wouldn't be averse to revisiting the world and seeing what all the characters are up to now.
Shattered Warrior is on sale from First Second Books on May 16. All artwork by Molly Knox Ostertag.