1. What inspired you to write this book?
I was raised in Versailles,
France, and I have always been fascinated by the castle. As a teenager, I used
to spend a lot of time reading classic gothic vampire novels in the castle’s
gardens. The inspiration to write The Court of Shadows stemmed
from two deeply anchored desires: to write about Versailles on one hand, and to
write about vampires on the other hand. These two desires combined into one
question: What if Louis XIV, the Sun King and longest reigning monarch in
French history, discovered the secret of immortality in order to remain on the
What exactly is it about and who is it written for?
Court of Shadows and the whole Vampyria series belongs
to the historical fantasy genre, and more precisely to fantasy alternate
history. After Louis XIV turned into a vampire, most of the European kings and
queens pledged allegiance to him in order to become immortals, too. Because
vampires, by definition, are creatures stuck in time, I imagined that a world
ruled by vampires would also stop evolving. Even if the Vampyria story
happens in the 21st century, it looks and feels like the 17th/18th century:
there has been no social progress, no scientific breakthroughs – and, of
course, no French nor American revolution.
Originally written in
French, the series has already been translated into 9 languages. When I tour
internationally, I can see that it appeals both to fantasy readers and history
What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?
of all, entertainment! 17th century history by itself is such
an exciting subject, full of anecdotes and conflicts. The added fantasy
elements allow me to bring the drama one step further. But I would also like
readers to get a new critical view at this pivotal time in modern history.
You see, I’ve long been interested in the
“Grand Siècle,” which, for many historians, goes all the way up to the death of
Louis XIV in 1715. It’s an absolutely pivotal moment in our history, one that
brims with paradoxes. It’s the time of Descartes, of Pascal, and of the advent
of reason, which prefigured the Age of Enlightenment. But paradoxically, it’s
also an age of darkness, with an incredible resurgence of superstitions and of
the occult. Witchcraft was never more practiced in France than under Louis XIV
(the lurid Affair of the Poisons bears witness), while in Spain, the
Inquisition reached its sinister apogee, and in America, suspected witches were
burned in Salem. It’s as if humanity’s dark dreams made a tremendous comeback in
this period. It’s a subject matter that appeals to me— especially through the
prism of our own period, which between conspiracy theories and fake news, is
itself under threat from a rise in irrationality.
Beyond these mystical manifestations, on
a cultural, political and social level, the Grand Siècle shaped France into
what it is today: centralization of power, development of architecture and the
arts, the rise of gastronomy, and the art of living. But here again, there’s a
paradox: the unsavory side of Louis XIV’s luminous reign—its religious
intolerance (revocation of the Edict of Nantes), and abject inequality
(enactment of the Code Noir in the colonies).
So by way of an alternate history, I
wanted to question the Grand Siècle, this monument of history books, honoring
its splendors and holding it accountable for its crimes.
did you decide on your book’s title and cover design?
Visual aspects of a book
are very important to me as a reader, and as a writer I always like to work
with artists in order to materialize the fictional world that I have in my
head. The European covers were made by a Spanish artist, Nekro, who reproduced
the famous golden Apollo mask that adorns all the grids in Versailles. For the
US edition, my publisher and I wanted to have a cover very evocative of classic
French culture. With the American artist, Colin Verdi, we came up with the idea
of the “Toile de Jouy”. This kind of luxurious printed fabric was all the rage
in France in the 18th century. Colin gave his own
interpretation of the Toile de Jouy, decorating it with scenes from the novel
and vampiric patterns.
5. What advice or words
of wisdom do you have for fellow writers – other than run!?
There are as many ways
to write as there are writers, so it is difficult to give universal advice.
That being said, I think that two ideas can be of great help especially to
My first advice would be
to write regularly, ideally every day. This is how you can keep connected to
your characters and your storyline. Writing a novel is indeed an arm wrestling
contest between fiction and reality, the latter always seeming more urgent
(especially in our modern, hyperconnected world, where we receive notifications
all the time). This fight has to be fought and won every day.
My second advice is not
to be a too much of a perfectionist while producing the first draft. Many young
writers want every sentence to read perfect from the start, which can be very
inhibiting and can generate writer’s block. After years of practice, I learned
that the time to be a perfectionist is during the second draft and the
What trends in the book world do you see — and where do you think the book
publishing industry is heading?
One of the big question
marks for the publishing industry, but also for all artists, is artificial
intelligence. Never in the history of humanity has technological progress been
so fast. Will machines be able to write novels in the near future? Will the rise
of artificial intelligence push artists to create new forms of creativity?
There is legitimate cause for both concerns and hopes. I wrote a book about
this, Cogito (not yet translated to English).
7. Were there experiences in your personal life or career that came in
handy when writing this book?
Having spent my youth in
Versailles, I feel that the castle is a part of my life. I drew from all my
memories of my numerous visits, but also from my extensive reading about the 17th century
and the court of the Sun King.
8. How would you describe your writing style?
Which writers or books is your writing similar to?
Writing the Vampyria series,
I draw from the rich tradition of the French adventure novel (writers like
Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Jules Verne), and I infused it with themes
borrowed from the English/Irish gothic novel (Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley,
Sheridan Le Fanu). My ultimate goal is to create an intoxicating atmosphere,
like in an Anne Rice novel, with a breathtaking pacing, like in a Quentin
What challenges did you overcome in the writing of this book?
All writers can testify that their
characters acquire a form of autonomy in the writing process, making their own
decisions. I’ve experienced that in my previous novels, before The
Court of Shadows. But of all the books I’ve written, of all the characters
I’ve created, Jeanne, the heroine of Vampyria, is the one who got
the most out of my control. She’s so impulsive and unpredictable! She really
gave me cold sweats. But looking back, I know that I precisely needed this type
of main character for this story. You see, the world of Vampyria has
been stuck in time for three centuries. Everything is ossified. I needed a
character like a cannonball, very dynamic, destroying everything on her way…
including my sanity.
people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?
Because it will offer them both the
gilded enchantments of Versailles and the thrills of a horrific vampire story.
Gold and blood: this is a delicious cocktail indeed!
Dixen is the author of many bestselling French novels,
including four series for young adults: THE STRANGE CASE OF JACK SPARK, ANIMALE, PHOBOS and VAMPYRIA;
and he is a two-time winner of the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, the most
prestigious science-fiction and fantasy award in France. Born to a French
mother and Danish father, Victor grew up in the city of Versailles. As an
adult, he has lived in Denver, Dublin, Singapore, and New York City. He now
divides his time between Paris and Washington, DC with his family and his two
inquisitive cats. Discover more about Victor Dixen at victordixen.com
“The act of reading is
extraordinary – whole worlds created out of Mack squiggles on a white ground.”
–John Banville, NYT Best-Selling Novelist
“It’s one thing to
communicate to people because you have something valuable to say. It’s another
to communicate with people because you believe they have value.”
–Best-Selling Author John Maxwell
happened ill happen, and no one will be safe from it.”
–JBS Haldane, Evolutionary Biologist
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