KERSTIN HALL‘s short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons and Fireside Magazine, and she is the author of the novellas The Border Keeper and Second Spear. She lives in Cape Town, South Africa.
Q: Tell us about your new book, Second Spear—the world where it takes place, and the characters who live there.
Second Spear is a direct sequel to my fantasy novella, The Border Keeper, and picks up where the last book left off. The story is largely set within Mkalis: an underworld comprised of the 999 realms of the dead.
Tyn is the protagonist this time; she is a fiercely loyal bodyguard to the demon ruler, Lfae. After the events of The Border Keeper, she’s going through an identity crisis—having failed in her duties, she feels like an imposter. Her superior, Vehn, exacerbates this self-doubt by placing her on suspension. This leads to Tyn making some costly mistakes that jeopardize the safety of the entire realm. Together with Vehn and a newcomer named Rion, Tyn sets out to save her beloved ruler and home.
Second Spear is a story about people who never feel quite good enough, those who always place second best. But it’s also a fantasy romp with evil cats, levitating court cases, fungal deities, and possibly sentient hedge mazes made of fingernails.
Q: Second Spear is a sequel to your 2019 book The Border Keeper. Is the story finished, or will you return to this world in future work?
I hope to return to the Mkalis Cycle! The ending of Second Spear leaves open that possibility in an overt way—not that it’s a cliffhanger, but there’s a lot of unresolved drama. I know what happens next, and I’d love to unpack that in a third book.
Very slow, and then abruptly very fast. I honestly did not enjoy much success with short fiction, and suspect I’m better suited to long-form projects. I wrote The Border Keeper for Tordotcom Publishing’s open submissions period at the end of 2016, and was shocked when they eventually accepted it.
Q: You’re based in Cape Town, South Africa. What’s the science fiction and fantasy scene like there?
My impression is that it is small and fairly insular. I’m not well connected to it.
Q: The Border Keeper was a Nommo Award finalist for the best work of SF by Africans. What other African writers do you admire?
I think there are a lot of exciting up-and-coming Nigerian writers. Osahon Ize-Iyamu’s work is fantastic; I think his prose is immaculate. Tobi Ogundiran is also excellent—he does atmosphere really well, and he has a collection coming out in 2023.
A little closer to home geographically, I really love Yvette Lisa Ndlovu’s work. She balances humor and poignancy in a way that I think is very hard-hitting. Her upcoming short story collection is called Drinking from Graveyard Wells, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Q: You’ve worked as a submissions manager, magazine fiction editor, and even founded a magazine. Tell us about your editorial philosophy and goals.
My longest and most valuable editorial experience has been with Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I’m an editorial assistant at the publication, which entails reading from the pool of short story submissions and suggesting which pieces should be accepted. There’s a real thrill in discovering something exceptional in the slush pile.
Also, in my completely unbiased opinion, BCS’s editor is one of the best in the field. Scott H. Andrews takes on more revise-and-resubmits than anyone else; he gives opportunities to new names and works with them in ways that emphasize their visions and voices. I think he’s uncommonly kind and generous, and I’ve tried to emulate him in a lot of ways—I definitely see him as a kind of mentor figure.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know? Upcoming work or other projects of note?
I’m writing a romantic epic weird novel that should come out in 2024. That’s been a fun project. I have also been busy with a novelette set in the Mkalis Cycle universe, detailing Lfae’s rise to power, which I hope will be entertaining for fans of the series—and maybe to newcomers too!