Interview with Jaleigh Johnson

With the upcoming print release of Assassin's Creed: The Golden City, we welcome Jaleigh Johnson to the stable of novel authors within the franchise. Thanks to Aconyte Books, we recently had the opportunity to interview Jaleigh and gather her thoughts on her new release.

Interview with Jaleigh Johnson

Q: Hi Jaleigh! Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. Can you please introduce yourself to our fans that might not know you, and a little about your career beyond Assassin's Creed?

: Thank you so much for the interview and for the warm welcome! For those that donít know, Iím a fantasy author born and raised in the wilds of the Midwest. Iím a geek and a gamer who grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons, and Iíve written several novels for the game in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. Iíve also written middle grade fantasy novels for younger readers in worlds of my own, the most well-known of which is probably the World of Solace series. More recently, I wrote a prequel novel to the new Dungeons & Dragons movie, Honor Among Thieves. Through Aconyte Books, Iíve written for Marvel and now Assassinís Creed!My geek girl heart still canít quite believe all of that is true.

Q: What originally attracted you to writing for the franchise? Was there any aspect that particularly interested you?

I love the historical settings of the franchise, and having the chance to get to meld the story of the Assassin/Templar conflict onto the canvas of history in unique and interesting ways is a great challenge. I was also drawn to the characters of Hytham and Basim. I loved having the chance to explore their relationship in more depth, as thereís a lot to unpack with those two.

Q: How would you describe The Golden City as an overall story and what do you think are its strongest elements for new and longtime fans alike?

I think broadly itís a story of fathers and sons, and how that relationship (or the lack of one) can shape a person through their whole life. I think new fans can relate to that, and for longtime fans, itís also a story of trust and loyalty, specifically where Hytham and Basim are concerned. Fans of Assassinís Creed Valhalla will get more insight into these two characters and how their relationship developed before the events of the game.

Q: How much research did you have to perform on this era of Constantinople? We noted that there were several examples of real life events and historical figures carefully weaved into the narrative.

This was easily in the top two or three most researched projects Iíve been involved in, because it wasnít just about researching the history of Constantinople and its people and politics. It was also about delving back into AC Valhalla, re-watching the cutscenes with Hytham and Basim for more insight into the game lore and how it presents these characters. I was also given access to material from the upcoming game AC Mirage in order to give more depth to Basimís character and history. Weaving all those elements together was a challenge but a very rewarding one.

Q: Have you traveled to any of the locations within your novel? Was there any particular inspirations to your descriptive writing of these places?

I havenít, but now I want to! Part of the inspiration for describing Constantinople came from researching how itís presented in the game world and also tracing its history from the creation of the city to how it exists today as Istanbul. It struck me at the time I was reading about the modern city just how much has been lost over the centuries. My agent teases me that one of the recurring themes in my writing is the desire to preserve and protect the artifacts of history. I felt that keenly when I was reading about how much of this ancient world just doesnít exist anymore, and I wanted to capture as much of what I imagined it to be like as I could, based on the stories I read. Sometimes the stories are all we have.

Q: Hytham is the primary focus of the storyline, and is known to players of the Assassin's Creed Valhalla game. As one of the main characters here, did you find creating his character particularly complex against his depiction within the game? What were the challenges you had to face to transition his character from the doubtful and suspecting apprentice about his teacher Basim in the novel to the more unknowingly respectful and loyal Assassin at the beginning of Valhalla?

Hytham was definitely a challenge, yes. In Valhalla, he is loyal to Basim, and itís obvious he has a great deal of respect for him, even when
Pic by Red Winters
he questions the manís actions. But I believe Hythamís a smart man. Heís been with Basim long enough that he has to know thereís more going on with him than whatís presented on the surface. So, why does he give the man his loyalty? Does he really trust Basim as much as it seems? What might have happened between these two that created this relationship? These were the questions I started with for the novel. I also realized that Hythamís feelings for Basim were always going to be complex, and the novel gave me the chance to show that complexity, where a game doesnít have the time to delve as deeply into the characters.

Q: Basim is of course another character from Valhalla, but who will also star as the main protagonist of the upcoming Assassin's Creed Mirage. Which kinds of hints into his story, personality and purposes can fans expect from The Golden City?

Without getting too deep into potentially spoilery bits, I can say that there are easter eggs and references in the novel that youíll see explored in more depth in the upcoming game. And, through Basimís growing bond with Hytham in the novel, fans will also get more insight into Basimís past and his relationship with his own father. It all comes back to fathers and sons.

Q: Were you given any particular insight to Basimís background from the future game?

There were actually quite a few insights into Basim that helped me understand his character and motivations better, but again, if I reveal too much, thereís a Hidden Blade waiting for me in a dark corner! Letís just say I hoped to draw certain parallels between some of the events
in the upcoming game and the novel, things that complicate Basimís feelings and his ambitions. Things like caring about Hytham far more than he wants to.

Q: How was it working with Ubisoft on this project? Did you have a degree of freedom in writing this series, or are you directed to a specific template?

I had more freedom than I expected to on the project, which was lovely. Most of the directives I received were rooted in keeping the novel consistent with the game lore and the overall spirit of the franchise, which was a nice guiding hand to have to make sure I was doing justice to the story and characters.

Q: Has it been difficult for you to have to keep up with the lore of the franchise in general? Did you use something specific to help you with it, like the Assassin's Creed Wiki for example?

It can be overwhelming when you look at the depth and breadth of the lore, but itís not so different from writing for Marvel or Dungeons & Dragons in that you focus in on your particular corner of the story, so to speak. And Iím also not alone on the project. My editor, Gwen Nix, was invaluable as a sounding board and research partner, and there was the team at Ubisoft Ė loremasters all Ė who were there whenever I got stuck in the weeds. The collaborative nature of writing for these franchises can be wonderful. Youíre surrounded by people who love the things you love and want to make something amazing with you. That kind of creative energy is vital.

Q: Are you a gamer yourself? Have you had a chance to play the Assassin's Creed games at all?

Yes indeed! A proud gamer and geek my whole life, and Iíve played several of the Assassinís Creed games. I canít claim to be particularly GOOD at them, but thatís never stopped me!

Q: Was there any particular scene, or dialogue in the novel that you are most proud of?

Thereís one fight scene late in the novel that had my editor gushing. I LOVE to make my editor gush. Thatís the dream!

Q: Naturally fans will be interested to hear about any other Assassin's Creed titles you are working on, or indeed any other projects. Are there any teases you can provide on what is next for you?

I wish I could talk about the projects Iím working on right now! Youíve no idea! But again, thereís a blade with my name on it if I spill the beans too soon, so I have to keep quiet for now!

Thank you for your time, Jaleigh!

Assassin's Creed: The Golden City is available for purchase now in all good stockists, as well as digitally. Ifyou happened to miss it, do please check our review as well.

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