Marshall Ryan Maresca grew up in upstate New York and studied film and video production at Penn State. He now lives Austin with his wife and son. His work appeared in Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction and Rick Klaw’s anthology Rayguns Over Texas. He also has had several short plays produced and has worked as a stage actor, a theatrical director and an amateur chef. The Thorn of Dentonhill is his debut novel. DAW will also be publishing A Murder of Mages, the first novel in Marshall’s second fantasy series, set in the city of Maradaine. For more information, visit Marshall’s website at www.mrmaresca.com.
When I first started writing The Thorn of Dentonhill, I wasn’t thinking too much about what fantasy subgenre it would fall into. After a dissatisfying, trunked attempt to write a sprawling travelogue-style fantasy, I decided to change the scope of what I was doing, but not the setting. It was the same world as the sprawling epic fantasy, but the story only took place in the handful of square blocks that comprised three neighborhoods of a single city.
I had considered what I had done to be “urban fantasy”. It was fantasy, after all, and in an urban setting, so what else could it be?
That was, until I pitched the project to one agent, who chewed my ear off that what I did wasn’t urban fantasy at all. “Urban fantasy,” she said to me like an exasperated teacher dealing with a particularly obstinate student, “Is when there’s magic or vampires or werewolves in a real world city. If you’re writing in a fictional world, it can’t be ‘urban fantasy’.
I wasn’t sure I agreed with that assessment, but I went along with it. “So, what would this be then?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a resigned sigh. “Frankly, I’m not sure what you’d call this.”
Needless to say, she was not the agent for me.
I didn’t mind, because I found writing at this crossroad where epic fantasy met urban fantasy to be incredibly invigorating. It wasn’t “it’s neither this nor this”— it was the best of both worlds.
A big part of the fun for me was taking those elements of grand, sweeping worldbuilding that one uses in epic fantasy and applying them on a micro scale, to individual streets and neighborhoods in the city.
In any good urban fantasy, the city itself is as much a character as anything else in the book. It’d be folly for a writer to set an urban fantasy novel in New York or Chicago or Paris without a solid knowledge of those cities, preferably firsthand.
I couldn’t get firsthand knowledge of Maradaine, but I knew I had to build it from the ground up. I knew I needed to know it like a native does.
The bulk of the action takes place in three neighborhoods: Dentonhill, Aventil and the University of Maradaine. Right next to each other, but worlds apart. Campus walls border the University, and Waterpath Road marks the line between Dentonhill and Aventil. Each neighborhood has its deep history, and its people who have deep loyalty to their own.
Even though it’s all in just one city, for many of the characters crossing those markers from one neighborhood to another is akin to going into another nation— enemy territory.
At the center of that we have Veranix, a young man with connections and history to all three neighborhoods, but isn’t truly part of any of them. He might live on the campus presently, but his past ties back to Aventil, and his future is aimed at Dentonhill.
Personal stakes. Urban scale. Epic scope.
And really fun to write.