Last week, I revealed the cover for my upcoming sophomore novel, The Pillars of Dawn, and I mentioned more details would be forthcoming. The first question I usually get about this one is if it’s a sequel to my novel Carrier. No, it isn’t. Stellan and Daelen are going to stay on ice for now, and I understand if I’m the only one who thinks that joke is funny.
Other than publishing a few short stories, I’ve been quiet for a long time about what I’ve been working on, and the reasons are three-fold: 1). I’m a slow worker, 2). it was difficult to find a home for this novel, and 3). this story is a beast.
I’d rather not talk about 1 or 2, but I’m eager to talk about 3.
There’s really no other way to put it. The Pillars of Dawn is a fat child. All told, it comes in at about 160,000 words, which is enough for two average-length novels (or, technically, three short novels). Not only is it big, but it’s complex, following six main characters as they struggle to keep their home safe and unravel the mysteries of the unknown lands beyond their colony on an alien world.
The Pillars of Dawn is set on a colonial planet named “Lumen,” and it takes place far in the future after humanity has conquered the stars and begun colonizing worlds in systems beyond Sol.
Once a lifeless ball of ice, Lumen had the potential to be a beautiful planet, with the right conditioning. In some ways, it is analogous to Mars in our home star system. It exists in the “goldilocks zone,” a happy medium distance from its star that would make it not too hot or too cold so as to be conducive to life. Lumen has a lot of water, but because it lacked an atmosphere, it couldn’t trap the heat necessary for water to exist in liquid form.
Lumen also has an iron core, but it isn’t molten. On Earth, our molten iron core is what generates our electromagnetic field, which guards us from solar particles that would otherwise blast away our home’s atmosphere (and if you like breathing, that would be kind of a problem). Without this electromagnetic field, Earth would be devoid of life like Mars. However, in the future, we humans have the capability to fix a core that isn’t molten.
We call them the “Pillars of Dawn,” and while they charge up the planet’s core, they also generate “the dawn,” which is a cocktail of life-giving gasses. That big tower thing on the cover is a Pillar of Dawn, and it was lovingly crafted by the talented Eloise J. Knapp, author and designer.
When this story begins, humans have been toiling on Lumen for centuries, and it has become a lush garden world with a functioning ecosystem. The air is breathable, and while the average temperature is cooler than Earth’s, it is relatively warm enough to sustain life in all of its forms. Lumen is close to being self-sustaining. The human inhabitants are on the brink of being able to truly call this world home.
Lumen has six colonies to support its six pillars, but this story focuses on Vale, a colony in a temperate region set in a valley between mountain ranges. Like Lumen itself, Vale is reaching a point of social and civil maturity of political and economic stability. The residents of Vale have established a society with laws, and they’re even beginning to create culture in the form of art and entertainment. The people of Vale are prospering and flourishing more than ever before.
But one night, a young couple foolishly goes out past Vale’s perimeter wall—a tall, concrete structure that encompasses the entire colony and its pillar and is patrolled by sentries, soldiers whose sole purpose and role is to keep the colony safe, but from what, they aren’t told (ooooh, mystery and intrigue).
The Arokson brothers, Lincoln and Aeron, are at opposite ends of the social order. Lincoln is the town outcast, once suspected of murdering his wife and benefiting from his family’s status. Aeron is the colony’s warden, its political leader like a mayor or governor except more powerful and not tempered by a legislature.
On this night, Lincoln has been locked up in the colony’s jail, and his brother has come to visit. Aeron could release his brother, but hoping the lockup will teach Lincoln a lesson, he chooses not to.
Sheriff Regina Ballard comes to notify Aeron that the young couple is missing in the wild beyond the perimeter wall. Being the resident expert of the wild, Lincoln offers to help find them, but Aeron makes his brother stay in the cell as he and Ballard run off to see to the colony.
Shane Arokson, Lincoln’s son, worries his girlfriend/girl friend/it’s-complicated friend Sera is the one who’s gone missing. But when the missing girl finds her way back home and he discovers Sera is all right, he is relieved but displeased to learn Sera’s brother is still missing in the wild and nobody, not even his uncle Aeron, seems to be doing anything about it.
Meanwhile, Lucy Arokson, Aeron’s wife, uses her family’s stature to release Lincoln from the jail, and when he returns home, he finds his son missing and his young daughter alone and frightened. Seething, Lincoln waits for Shane, and he doesn’t intend to let it go.
If this all seems complicated and hard to follow, you’re not wrong. The Pillars of Dawn is a big novel full of complicated familial tensions, political and social intrigue, and character-driven storytelling, and if you didn’t fall asleep through the first part of this sentence, you may be delighted to learn The Pillars of Dawn is also an action-packed sci-fi/horror thriller with huge, fantastic set pieces, vast alien landscapes, terrifying monsters, explosions, and terrifying monsters with explosions.
In a way, The Pillars of Dawn is virtually everything I love about storytelling crammed into one big story. With this novel, I wanted to create a world you could get comfortable with on the couch or your favorite chair or even in your bed, and I wanted you to feel like it’s a world you can truly sink into. I wanted it to be alluring and satisfying. I wanted The Pillars of Dawn to be a story that sticks with you, that is memorable and unique, and I think, at least for the right person, I accomplished that.
The Pillars of Dawn may not be my magnum opus (oh, but I have plans, dear reader), but it is everything I am as a person and a writer. When I first set out on this journey as an author, I made the commitment to myself that, no matter what I wrote, I wanted it to be honest. What that means to me is a little amorphous, but I hope that, in my writing, people find a sense of honesty, that even if it’s not exactly what we’d call “good writing,” it’s at least honestly trying to be what it is and not what it isn’t.
I think The Pillars of Dawn hits that mark, and I’m damn proud of it. On December 8, I hope you’ll check it out.