Daniel was getting married today, but all he could think about was work. In the musty Hebrew school classroom of Temple Beth Tiferet he pulled the black suit jacket over his shoulders and remembered the storm, how he had laid warm blankets over weary shoulders. He tightened the knot of his wine-dark tie and remembered wrapping gauze around swollen legs. Those folks didn’t have homes — hadn’t for years, and yet here he was, about to venture off to an island for two weeks of luxury and indulgence. And what about Gram, who would remain home, alone, with no one to call if she needed help? He wanted to keep Rebekah happy, but the truth was he longed to stay in New York and continue working for the Shulman Fund, where he fought for the city’s homeless. He wanted to stay close to Gram, the one who had raised him. But Rebekah, as sympathetic and understanding as she could be, had said their honeymoon was non-negotiable. They would be leaving first thing in the morning.
Fully dressed now in his itchy black wedding suit, Daniel gazed out the window. Last week’s hurricane — unusual for New York — had swept out the late-summer warmth, and outside the afternoon air was crisp and biting. The sun descended over a copse of tall Westchester oaks, and the light pierced the blinds, sending ladders of orange across Christopher’s smiling face. Christopher managed the Rising Path shelter that Daniel had helped build, and as he turned, the sun illuminated the tattoo on the dark skin of his neck: a crucified Jesus, blood spilling down his face from his crown of thorns, gazing up at God, awaiting redemption.
“I’ve never been to a Jewish wedding,” Christopher said. “You told me about some of your customs, but I’m excited to see them for myself.”
Christopher turned, and the shadow of his neck darkened the sky above Jesus, as if storm clouds were rolling in. “The rituals are beautiful,” Daniel said, “but sometimes I feel as if it’s more about the performance than the meaning behind them.”
“All rituals are performances,” Christopher said. “That’s the whole point, isn’t it?”
Above the chalkboard a paper Hebrew alphabet had been stapled to a long cork strip. In the orange sunlight, the letters seemed to burn. The letter Ayin was missing. Ayin, the divine nothing. Ayin, the good or evil eye, depending. At least, that’s what Gram had said. Daniel shook his head. Now wasn’t the time for her silly superstitions. Outside, the branches of dead trees shivered in the wind.
Matthew Kressel writes:
King of Shards is an epic fantasy novel based partly on ancient Jewish mythology and folklore. One myth that has always fascinated me is the legend of the Lamed Vav, or the thirty-six anonymous saints who uphold the world. No one knows who these Lamed Vav are, and the myth says that even you or I could be one. If any one of these saints ceases to be righteous, the world would be destroyed. In King of Shards, Daniel Fisher discovers he is a Lamed Vavnik and that demons have been searching for his kind for millennia, trying to kill them.
Another myth I find fascinating is the so-called Shattered Vessels of Creation, a theory, elaborated by the 16th century Kabbalist Isaac Luria, that our universe wasn’t the first to be created. There were others that came before ours. But they displeased God — they had too many imperfections — and so God smashed them. In King of Shards, these primordial worlds were not empty, but populated with sentient beings — demons. A few survived this cosmic Shattering and live on fragment husks — the Shards — where they cling miserably to life.
And they’re pissed.
In the cosmology of King of Shards, the Earth serves as a kind of fountain that waters the many universal fragments of the Shards with its life force. Without Earth’s water of life, the Shards would wither and die. Earth is relatively abundant and prosperous, but the Shards are brutal hell worlds. Nothing lives on the Shards for long, and the demons that dwell there endlessly struggle for meager scraps.
So when it comes to pass that a few demons discover the names of the hidden Lamed Vav, they hatch a plan to kill them all. They hope that if they kill the Lamed Vav and destroy the Earth, the waters of life will spill in a great torrent upon them, bringing them life and abundance that has been denied them for so long.
It’s a crazy plan, and none other than Ashmedai, king of demons, recognizes the insanity of it. But Ashmedai has little power to stop them. He’s been dethroned and cast out of Sheol, the most ancient of Shards. Weak, alone, and vulnerable, Ashmedai needs Daniel’s help to stop the demons before they destroy all of existence with their foolish plan.
And so Daniel and Ashmedai, saint and demon, must join forces to save the world. But Ashmedai is not everything he appears to be. He is demon, after all.
I have always been fascinated with the apocryphal tales of Judaism, stories that began as folktales after the canonical Hebrew bible was set down. These tales were passed from generation to generation, evolving over time, until we hear engrossing tales of dybukks, lost souls who possess brides-to-be; golems, mounds of clay animated with the Holy Name of God; and shedim, demons who leave bird-like footprints by the beds of sleepers. There are literally thousands of these stories, and it would take a lifetime to explore them all. I’ve been outlining a few of these myths over on my blog.
Not all of these myths found their way into King of Shards, of course. I began with a few lesser-known myths as jumping-off points, but I never let them interfere with my creativity. Ultimately, I wanted to tell an exciting adventure fantasy. So while King of Shards is based on mythology, it’s not constrained by it, and many of the creations in the book are my own. I hope this inspires you to check out King of Shards and try to guess which ones are which.
King of Shards debuts October 13th in print, audio, and ebook.
About the author:
Matthew Kressel is a multiple Nebula Award-nominated writer and World Fantasy Award-nominated editor. His short stories have or will appear in such publications as Lightspeed, Nightmare, Clarkesworld, io9.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Interzone, Electric Velocipede, Apex Magazine, and the anthologies Naked City, After,The People of the Book, and The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, as well as other markets.
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