Former stealth pilot James R. Hannibal is no stranger to secrets and adventure. He has been shot at, locked up with surface to air missiles, and chased down a winding German road by an armed terrorist. He is a two-time Silver Falchion Award-winner for his Section 13 mysteries, a Thriller Award nominee for his Nick Baron Covert Ops Series, and a Selah Award finalist for his Clandestine Service Series. James is a rare multi-sense synesthete, meaning all of his senses intersect. He sees and feels sounds and smells and hears flashes of light. If he tells you the chocolate cake you offered smells blue and sticky, take it as a compliment.
In this interview, James talks about his newest book, Wolf Soldier.
FF: What inspired the story in your book?
As a pastor’s kid in the 1908s, I had the opportunity to “guinea-pig” every new youth discipleship program from a range of Christian organizations. The one that stuck with me (the one that is still part of who I am) was DragonRaid, an “adventure learning system” that works like a cross between a choose-your-adventure and a roleplaying game set in the fantasy realm of Talania. 35 years later, Dick Wulf, the creator of that realm, has passed the torch to me. Wolf Soldier is the first in a whole family of interconnected games and stories set in Talania. And Wolf Soldier seeks to examine a fundamental question from the original discipleship game: How do we follow God’s will?
FF: What can you tell us about the main characters in your book?
Connor Enarian is a shepherd boy in Stonyvale, in the protected region of Keledev, known as the Liberated Land. Since the days of his patehpa, Connor’s people have been banned from striking out into the Dragon Lands to rescue the oppressed. Two generations ago, after Faelin Enarian vanished on the final mission north across the mountain barrier, the Lightraider Order was disbanded. Now an elder knight is trying to rekindle the fires of Lightraider Academy. Connor is beset by the fears he inherited from his father, a man whose own father was taken by the dragons. He’ll need to overcome those fears if he is to join the other potentials at the academy. The other four that make the journey are a pair of twins from the misty forests of Sil Tymest, a fisher-scribe from the Assembly, and a large young miner from Huckleheim. Like Connor, they are too young and too inexperienced to face the dangers that await them north of the barrier, but the Rescuer has asked them to go anyway.
FF: Which character surprised you the most?
Dag surprised me. Dag is the big Huckleheim miner patterned after the “tank” in a traditional roleplaying game. As the story grew, Dag became a skilled cook and an introspective and voracious reader who would aid the party in ways far more important than simple brute strength.
FF: Why do you think storytelling is such a powerful way to share truth?
A core principle of DragonRaid was “learning through story.” Allegory and storytelling help us see truths from a different angle or perspective. Dick Wulf knew this when he created the realm of Talania. I’m excited about the future of DragonRaid (now Lightraiders), since it deepens that potential for learning and understanding by placing players inside the story and giving them control over the action and emotion.
FF: What can readers expect from the rest of this series?
Readers can expect to see the Lightraider Academy cadets grow together, add to their number, and experience new dangers and challenges. They can expect to see the mists peeled back and more of the fantastical realm of Talania revealed, hopefully including more maps by James R. Brown, who penned the two fantastic, detailed maps for Wolf Soldier. And they can expect more opportunities to take part in the realm through additional games and stories from Lightraiders. In fact, they can participate in an online reader-directed origin story growing chapter by chapter right now on the blog at Woodridge.org.
FF: How do you get into the right frame of mind to write for your genre/audience?
I lived in the realm of Talania as a teen. And when I grew up, I wrote new adventures so my children, nieces, and nephews could spend some time there as well (that’s how Dick Wulf and I connected). I know every vine in Dayspring Forest, every smooth rock in the stream running past the gates of Lightraider Academy. I know them because I grew up there. I’ve been in a frame of mind to write for this audience since I was twelve years old.
FF: What do you want readers to take away after reading your book?
I want readers to gain a better understanding of what it means to follow God’s will. I want them to know what it means to be truly awake (Ephesians 5:13-14).
FF: What are the biggest challenges for you as an author writing in your specific genre?
There are many competing voices here, and not all of them are shouting the truth. I’m grateful to Enclave Escape for the opportunity to get the Lightraiders message out. Another challenge is creating something new out of the old. It’s no easy task to build a realm from a 1980s foundation for a 2021 audience, creating something unique while staying true to the original game world and the epic fantasy genre.
FF: What authors or books have inspired you as an author?
Obviously, Dick Wulf inspired me (NavPress author, Christian counselor, Focus on the Family contributor, and DragonRaid creator). Also on the list are Calvin Miller (The Singer Trilogy, The Valiant Papers), C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien.
FF: How has your faith or world view impacted the way you tell stories?
My faith defines the way I tell stories. I write to encourage or edify others and to honor Christ. I hope that one day He’ll tell me I’ve done well in that endeavor.
Lightraider Academy Series #1
James R. Hannibal
Genres: Fantasy, YA/Teen
Release Date: October 12, 2021
The fate of the Dragon Lands are at play
The knights of the Lightraider Order disappeared nearly two generations past. Now, the Keledan have withdrawn behind their barriers, and the Dragon Lands of bordering Tanelethar are overrun with dark oppression. The people are living in disobedience to the Rescuer who freed them long ago.
A shepherd boy, Connor Enarian, and four young initiates rekindle the fires of the Lightraider Order in the hope of striking out across the mountains into the Tanelethar to destroy a portal and stop an impending invasion.
Once in the Dragon Lands, Connor learns that the key to success lies with a missing Lightraider spy and his lifelong companion, a talking silver wolf. Can Connor and his friends find the spy before the portal grows too large to destroy? Or will a local young woman—or Connor’s own family history—betray them?
The dangers and secrets of Tanelethar test both trust and loyalty, and to save his homeland, Connor may have to sacrifice his innermost dreams.
Buy Wolf Soldier from the FF Store HERE!
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