An Interview with Walter Rhein

About the author: Walter Rhein was born in Wisconsin, but moved to Lima, Peru in his twenties. There, he supported himself by writing, teaching, translating and editing. He currently splits his time between Wisconsin and Peru.


About the Book: Book One of the Slaves of Erafor series: Reading is forbidden, and the penalty for non-compliance is a life of slavery enabled by the forcible administration of a mind rotting drug. Yet, there are those possessed of the will to seek illumination. Kikkan, a former slave on the run, and Quillion, a mercenary and self-taught scholar. Together they seek out a small band of rebels living in hiding who offer the promise of a better world. Their leader is a mysterious figure known only as The Reader of Acheron.

Cover art for The Reader of Archeron
Cover art for The Reader of Archeron


A few years ago, I had the good fortune of reviewing Walter’s debut novel, The Bone Sword. Walter has been kind enough to keep in touch over the years and let me know about his newest release. I invited him to the blog for an interview.


The Sith Witch: What one word best describes the central theme of The Reader of Acheron?


WR: Liberation


The Sith Witch: The Reader of Acheron is the first book in your Slaves of Erafor series. How would you describe the world of Erafor? What can readers expect as they begin this journey?

WR: It’s not a very nice place and it’s full of contradictions. The existing power structure is very controlling, but fortunately they are limited enough that lawlessness abounds. It’s very much a society that is conceived in ignorance to perpetuate oppression, and the population contributes to this end without full awareness of the effects of their participation. This is not a novel that contains one clear-cut villain; it’s more complex in that even those that would change things sometimes act in the interests of the existing hierarchy. This is very much a shades of gray fantasy novel.


The Sith Witch: What inspired the story?


WR: I wrote the story after getting to know Janet Morris of Thieves’ World fame on my Heroic Fantasy Facebook group. Janet has a very unique writing style, and I proposed the idea of working with her on an ambitious project. When she agreed, the pressure was on me to conceive of a theme worthy of an “adult” fantasy novel. Janet is interested in ideas, and it was rewarding to plan and write a novel knowing she would be the first person to evaluate it. I’d been considering the topics of oppression and authority for quite some time, so it was just a matter of conceiving how I could incorporate these themes into a fantasy novel. We’re excited to have other people check out the result and supply us with feedback. A lot of the wealth of this story will result from the discussion it, hopefully, inspires.


The Sith Witch: The first book follows the story of Quillion, a mercenary, and Kikkan, a former slave. What can you tell us about their relationship? Who are these characters, and what is their connection?


WR: Quillion and Kikkan exist in parallel narratives in “The Reader of Acheron.” Thematically the two of them are important, but they approach the same objectives from radically different paths. Kikkan is more of a traditional “hero” in that he has a strong sense of right and wrong. Quillion, on the other hand, is a survivor and is very pragmatic. Their interaction is not without tension, but there is also a tempered awareness that they are more likely to achieve their ends if they work together rather than in opposition. It’s interesting to have characters that are committed to a moral code who are also aware of the limitations of their respective philosophies, and who seek alliances to help them fill in the gaps when necessary. Personal contradiction is going to be a running theme in this series.


The Sith Witch: The concept of slaves being denied education in a slave culture isn’t exactly a new idea. How do you take that concept and bring a new perspective to it? What differentiates your book from similar books in the genre that share the same theme?


WR: Slaves aren’t the only ones denied education in Erafor, everyone is. The slave culture is a natural development from an oppressive regime. The slave class is obviously the low point on the rung, but this book will explore how every social class “enslaves” the one below it. The Reader of Acheron doesn’t approach slavery as a theme in any kind of historical sense. It is more an exploration of how people can be conditioned, through trickery or abuse, to enslave themselves.


The Sith Witch: When someone finishes the book, what is it you hope they walk away with? Besides, obviously, clamoring for the next one!


WR: I hope it gives people a line of things to think about which, when contemplated in their own time, will help them figure out who their friends and enemies are in their own lives. This isn’t a book with “answers.” It’s a book filled with suggestions and nudges, but ultimately every reader gets to decide how valuable it is. Heck, even if people absolutely hate the book I’d be happy. At least hatred is a powerful emotion. I bet if they throw this book away in anger they won’t spend the rest of the day scrolling through Facebook or watching the Kardashians. I’ll take that result in a second.


The Sith Witch: Since once of the central points of the book is the value of reading, what was the last book you read?


WR: Beyond Sanctuary by Janet Morris. It’s a lovely, lyrical example of heroic fantasy, and for those of us who dabble in writing, it’s a clear example of how far we have yet to go.


The Sith Witch: Anything else you would like to share?


WR: I’d like to thank you for taking the time to host this interview! If your readers would like to join in with our ongoing discussion on Heroic Fantasy, please join us on the Facebook group (that group is the only thing that has kept me from deleting my account…I thought I should clarify after ripping on Facebook before). If anyone would like to contact me directly, my email is: I welcome your comments, just don’t tell me you’re in possession of 8 million dollars that rightfully belongs to me…unless it’s actually true.


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