Spotlight: Khyven the Unkillable by Todd Fahnstock
Monday, January 10, 2022

Today I'm super excited to spotlighting a book that's kicking off a new fantasy series of epic proportions: Khyven the Unkillable by Todd Fahnstock!
Fantasy readers, you're not going to want to miss this one, so read on for an exciting excerpt and Q&A with the author.
A rising champion. A secret rebellion. A deadly crossroads.

After forty-nine victories in the bloody Night Ring, Khyven the Unkillable is a celebrity gladiator. If he can survive one more battle, King Vamreth will free him and declare him a knight.

But the king doesn’t play fair.

Instead, for Khyven’s fiftieth “battle,” the king orders him to travel through the magical noktum and infiltrate the secret lair of a rebel leader known only as “The Queen in Exile.” All Khyven must do to earn his knighthood is gain the queen’s trust…

…and betray her.

As Khyven struggles to complete his mission, he is caught between a growing respect for a rebel queen who will do anything for her people and a ruthless king who will stop at nothing to crush her.

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Excerpt from Khyven the Unkillable:

Chapter One


Two knights threw open the door of the tavern, and the scent of last night’s rain blew in with them. Khyven heard their boots thump on the rough planks, heard the creak of leather and clink of chainmail as they shifted. He sat with his back to them, but he didn’t need to see them to know where they were.

The room went silent. This dockside drinking hole didn’t see knights very often, and their appearance had rendered the entire place speechless. That was respect. That was what being a knight meant in the kingdom of Usara.

They paused just inside the threshold, perhaps hoping to spook the fearful, but Khyven wasn’t a jumper. He had more in common with the newcomers than those who fled from them.

Ayla, the pretty barmaid sitting across from him, looked past Khyven, her eyes wide. She had been a lively conversationalist a moment ago and he’d been daydreaming about what it would be like to kiss those lips.

Now she looked like an alley cat who’d spotted an alley dog. Reflexively, she stood up, the wooden stool scraping loudly on the floor. She froze, perhaps realizing belatedly that when the powerful—the predators—were in the room, it was best not to draw attention to yourself.

Khyven heard the metallic rustle of the fighters’ chain mail and Ayla’s face drained of color. He envisioned the alley dogs turning at the sound, focusing on her.

She needn’t have worried. They weren’t here for her or any other patron of the Mariner’s Rest. They were here for Khyven.

He had killed a man in the Night Ring two days ago, and not just any man—a duke’s son. The entitled whelp had actually been a talented swordsman, but his ambition had outstripped his skill. And the Night Ring was an unforgiving place to discover such a weakness.

After Khyven had run the boy through, Duke Bericourt had sworn revenge. No doubt he had been waiting for an opportunity to find Khyven alone, vulnerable, to send in his butcher knights.

Men like these, sent to enforce a lord’s will or show his displeasure, were called butcher knights. Usually of the lowest caste—Knights of the Steel—butcher knights didn’t chase glory on the battlefield or renown in the Night Ring. They were sent to do bloody, back-alley work at their lord’s bidding.

Khyven took a deep breath of the smoky air, sipped from the glass of Triadan whiskey, and enjoyed the fading burn down his throat.

The booted feet thumped to a stop next to his table.

“Khyven the Unkillable?” One of the men spoke, using Khyven’s ringer name—the flamboyant moniker the crowd had laid upon him.

Khyven glanced over his shoulder. Indeed. He had guessed right. The pair were Knights of the Steel.

There were three castes of knights in Usara: Knights of the Sun, Knights of the Dark, and Knights of the Steel, which was the lowest caste and the only one available to most lords. The pair wore chainmail shirts instead of full plate, conical steel caps with nose guards instead of full helms, and leather greaves and bracers.

As predicted, they wore Duke Bericourt’s crest on their left shoulders.

There was a code of honor among knights—even butcher knights. Except in cases of war, civility was required before gutting a man, especially when there were onlookers. Often a knight would give a flowery speech—including the offense he’d been sent to address—before drawing weapons. This was enough to justify murder.

Sometimes there was no flowery speech, but a knight would always at least say their victim’s name. If the victim acknowledged their name, that was all it took to bring out the blades.

Khyven didn’t give them the satisfaction. He took another sip of his whiskey and said nothing.

“Did you hear me?” the knight demanded, his hand touching his sword hilt.

If Khyven had been a normal ringer—a caged slave thrown into the Night Ring to slay or be slain for the sport of the crowd—these men would probably have forgone their code of honor and drawn their swords already.

But Khyven wasn’t just any ringer. He was the Champion of the Night Ring, and the king had afforded him special privileges because of that fact, like a room at the palace. Khyven had survived forty-eight bouts, the longest string of victories since…

Well, since Vex the Victorious had claimed fifty, won a knighthood and become the king’s personal bodyguard.

Steel scraped on steel, bringing Khyven back to the present. The second knight drew his dagger and placed it against Khyven’s throat.

Ayla gasped and backed away.

“You think you’re protected,” the second knight growled in Khyven’s ear. “You’re not.”

Of course, if Khyven didn’t acknowledge his name, there were other ways for the butcher knights to start the fight. If Khyven attacked them, for example, they could retaliate. The powerful could always push a victim into a corner when they needed to. That’s what the powerful did. Khyven had learned that long ago.

That was why, when Khyven had won his fortieth bout and his freedom from the Night Ring, he’d continued fighting, risking his life in every bloody bout. For the prize at the end of ten more bouts. For the power that would come with it.

When Khyven won his fiftieth bout, he would be elevated to knighthood, just like Vex the Victorious. And no one would look at him as a victim again.

The blade broke the skin, just barely, and a bead of blood trickled down Khyven’s neck. His pulse quickened. The familiar euphoria filled him, the rush of pleasure that came with the threat of death.

The euphoria brought vision, and Khyven saw with new eyes, his battle eyes. He saw his foe’s strengths and weaknesses as a swirling, blue-colored wind.

“You are Khyven the Unkillable,” the man breathed in his ear.

Khyven chuckled.

The second knight’s face turned red. He slashed—

But Khyven was already moving.

He shoved his palm against the man’s fist, arresting the strike. The blade nicked Khyven’s neck, but that wasn’t enough. That wasn’t nearly enough…

Q&A with Todd Fahnestock:

Khyven the Unkillable is the first book in a new series. What can you tell us about how many books there will be and where the series will go?
Oh, there’s SO much to tell. Khyven the Unkillable is not only the first book in an eight-book series called the Legacy of Shadows, but it is also the first in the mega-epic fantasy series: the Eldros Legacy. The Eldros Legacy is a project where I will write eight books over the next eight years on the continent of Noksonon, centered around Khyven and his group of friends (Lorelle the Luminent, Vohn the Shadowvar, Rhenn the warrior queen, Slayter the mage, and Shalure the seer.)

But in addition, the four other founding authors (Quincy J. Allen, Marie Whitakker, Mark Stallings and Rob Howell) will write eight books on their continents (Daemanon, Pyranon, Drakkanon, and Shijuren, respectively) within the same world over the next eight years. At book four of each series, the Thuroi (magical gateways) are going to open and the heretofore isolated continents are going to interact which, of course, will bring our various heroes face-to-face. I can’t wait for that moment.

So that’s forty books in eight years in the founders’ main storyline alone. But wait, there’s more! This is designed to be a shared world project, so we have invited some of the most talented fantasy writers in the world to contribute their own personal stylings to the world of Eldros Legacy. In addition to the five books the founders will complete every year, we will have five more cohort writers, each writing a novel on a different one of the continents, contribute their books as well.

And if that’s not enough, we’ll also release an anthology or two of Eldros short stories every year. So that’s one book a month for eight years. This is a fantasy super-reader’s dream.
What did you edit out of this book?
So there’s this sex scene…

Ha! No, just kidding. I think the biggest thing I edited out of the book was the last third—before it was actually written. I had a whole plan for the gang to go to Triada (the closest neighboring kingdom) and that whole part of the plot got erased as I realized I could do what I needed to do within Rhenn’s little encampment. They did travel south to visit the nomadic Sandrunners, though. That ended up being the pivotal midpoint of the book and perhaps the best fight scene I’ve ever written. It’s a reader favorite.
What was your favorite scene to write and why?
That is a tough question. Wow. There are many scenes I like in this story, all for different reasons. There are some scenes I like because it shows the camaraderie building between Khyven, Rhenn, and Lorelle. There are some scenes I like (like the aforementioned fight at the Sandrunners’ Burzagi Tor) because it shows Khyven doing what he does best: being a combat badass. And there are some scenes I like because they are heart-wrenching. Choose a favorite…? Ugh.

How about I choose the most emotionally impactful scene for me?

(Spoiler alert).

So, in the book, Khyven chooses the rebels over the king and leaves his betrothed, the manipulating sixth daughter of an obscure northern baron who is trying to improve her standing by luring Khyven into marriage. She’s conniving and will do just about anything to get what she wants, so…we don’t think much of Shalure in the beginning. But we can forgive her—a little—because in the end she’s just a young woman trying to make the best of her lot in a snakepit of ambition.

But when Khyven escapes the palace and leaves her behind, the king takes his wrath at Khyven out on her. He cuts out her tongue and throws her in a cage to be used by the ringers (gladiators) during the next bout. When Khyven himself is captured, he’s thrown into a cage next to her, and the moment he discovers what’s been done to her just slays me every time. I get tears in my eyes. I mean, Khyven knew she was using him, but nothing she did warrants what the king did to her.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
So this was the first time I ever used Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel Beat Sheet at the beginning of a novel, before I’d even started writing. I’m a pantser (that is to say I “write by the seat of my pants”) and not a plotter by nature. Usually, I want to jump into a story, start living the lives of the characters, and let the story unfold as I go along. But this time, I wanted to try something new. So I struggled with getting the beats of the story down before writing it.

That took some skull sweat, but I’m glad I stuck with it, because once I “beat it out,” the actual writing of the story went fast and smooth.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?
Heroes, wonder and magic-with-a-price.

I’ve been told that characterization is my hallmark, that I write deep, complex characters you can really feel “living” alongside you while you read the story. That and action scenes. I’ve been told my action scenes rock.
How did you come up with the title for this book?
Oh wow. This was probably the most difficult part of writing this book, actually. Hang on, let me check my notes to see how many different names I went through before settling on Khyven the Unkillable…


I swung and missed thirty three times, then settled on five finalists, then threw those in front of the other Eldros Legacy founders until it boiled down to Khyven the Unkillable.

Picking a title is so difficult. I always want to make something that ties to the story, but let’s face it, a title only does it’s job if it can grab someone’s attention and scream, “I’m epic fantasy! Pick me!” And sticking too closely to the “true nature” of the book can sometimes give you a title like “Threads of Amarion” (the third book in my Threadweavers series and a good lesson for me in picking titles). Sure, it’s a super cool title if you’ve read the book. But if you look at it without knowing anything about the story, what the hell does it mean? What does it evoke? Nothing.

So…to come up with a title that has never been done before as well as one with a fantasy aspect to it…that’s tough. Usually, I try for something obviously fantasy in the title, like “sword” or “tower” or “amulet” or “mage” or “dragon” or something like that. And believe me, I went through a lot of those kinds of names. But with the fantastic art provided by Rashed AlAkroka, I thought the cover was screaming “fantasy” pretty well without a single letter of the title. So I took a chance on picking something that rolled off the tongue and tried to intrigue the reader with the word “Unkillable.”
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
At a glance? The cover. So many talented people worked on that cover: Rashed AlAkroka (the main illustration), Melissa Gay (the continent symbol and the beginnings of the arch), Jim Fahnestock and Sean Olson (the kickass logo), Quincy J. Allen (the cover design), as well as the other founders through their feedback of the various stages. And I think it turned out marvelously well.

As to the content, if you like a fast-paced, action-packed story with deep world building and a dash of romance thrown in, Khyven the Unkillable will keep your heart racing from the beginning to the end.
What books have you written that are not a part of this series?
I’m the author of:

The bestselling high fantasy Threadweavers series: Wildmane, The GodSpill, Threads of Amarion, and God of Dragons.

The bestselling high fantasy The Whisper Prince Series: Fairmist, The Undying Man, and The Slate Wizards (forthcoming)

The award-winning, bestselling high fantasy Tower of the Four Series: The Quad, The Tower, The Test, The Resurrection, and The Reunion

As well as a few one-offs (that is to say, they’re not high fantasy): Ordinary Magic (a non-fiction book about my 14-year-old son and I hiking 450 miles on The Colorado Trail), Summer of the Fetch (a coming-of-age road trip story with a twist of magic, set in 1988), and Charlie Fiction (a time travel novel).
How much of yourself do you put into your books?
As much as will fit. ;) Obviously, a non-fiction book like Ordinary Magic has lots of me in it, because I’m the main character. But Summer of the Fetch was also based in parts on my own life, though 70% of it is pure gossamer fiction. And, of course, in all of my fantasy novels, I tend to imagine what kind of hero I’d want to be if I were in those situations. For example, Khyven has commitment issues. I, too, have commitment issues.
Do you try more to be original or deliver to readers what they want?
Oh, I would like to think I ride the line between both. I do want to give readers what they want. All the swords and action and kissing and danger and monsters they crave. But why can’t I do that and also have a completely original elf-like race? Or a new take on magic that no one’s ever seen before? I feel like I do my best to combine both.

But that’s just me imagining that I’m doing what I aspire to do. To get the true answer to that question, I think you’d have to ask the readers.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Winning awards, getting praise. Sounds sick and wrong, doesn’t it? Make no mistake, I love getting awards and accolades. In fact, that’s the problem. I love it so much—I get so affected by it—that it freezes me up.

I faced this problem big time this year when I was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award and the winner of the Colorado Authors League Award for Tower of the Four: The Champions Academy. I also got a heaping amount of praise for Khyven the Unkillable behind the scenes from writing industry insiders. All that attention and affirmation totally threw me off my game. When I finally got to the computer to start my next project, I froze up.

I kept thinking, “Well, I can’t write something worse than those that went before!” Of course, once I started thinking that, everything looked worse than what I’d written before (which, of course, it WAS. Because rough drafts are always worse than finished projects).
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I hated any and all “conventional knowledge” on writing when I was in my twenties. I wanted to forge my own path. I wanted to create something that “had never been seen before.”

Problem with that is I hadn’t seen everything that was out there, so I ended up duplicating a lot of what had already been done, all the while thinking myself so original.

Now if I could go back to my twenty-year-old self, I would say: Suck it up and study some credible, respected novels on craft and structure, like Save the Cat by Blake Snyder or Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jeffrey Alan Schechter, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, On Writing by Stephen King, The Hero’s Journey in The Hero of a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, the Three Act Structure and more.

You may not agree with them all, you may not like them all, but these are all tools for your toolbox. Better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.
What does literary success look like to you?
You know, I’ve been asked this a lot in the last few years, and my answer keeps changing. It really is the most important question every professional writer must ask themselves, though. For me, it defines how I feel about what I do.

When I don't know my answer to this question, I slide pretty quickly into misery. How can I be successful if I don’t know what that means to me?

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a New York Times bestselling author. Then later, my answer was: I want to make a million dollars from my writing.

I’ve not achieved either of those things yet, true, but I’ve hit other milestones. Yes, it felt amazing to win the Colorado Authors League Award. Yes, it feels great to hit #1 on Amazon with a book or make a pile of money at one of the many cons I go to. But each time I reach one of those thresholds, the internal reward is hot and fleeting. One moment I’m feeling that I’m “One of the Worthy Authors” and the next moment, I’m just me again, waking up, pulling on my jeans and sitting down in front of my computer, just like I did every day for a thousand days before this one.

You know what does stick with me, though, that lifts up my soul and stays with me in my moments of doubt? It’s not awards or bestseller tags. It’s not having an unprecedented con where I sold out of everything. It’s not even getting invited to teach at exclusive writers conferences or interviewed in podcasts and magazines.

It is having a mom message me and say, “What new books do you have? My child only reads two authors. Rick Riordan and you.” Or having an adult fan stop at my table at a con and say, “Me and my dad love your books. We get them as soon as they come out and read them at the same time. It’s how we bond.” Or having a child approach my school signing table with a picture she drew of one of my characters, shyly give it to me, and whisper, “You’re my favorite author.”

That’s my definition of success.
How many hours a day do you write? Or how many words?
My goal for this year is to average 1,000 words every day of the year. So that’s 365,000 words in 2022. I’ve averaged 2,000 words/day over the course of a month before. I’ve written an entire novel in 13 days before, but I think the most I’ve ever written over an entire year is about 300,000 words. So this year, I’m gonna beat that.
What books or authors have influenced your writing the most?
When it comes to continuing my education on craft and voice as a writer, every fiction book I read helps. I learn something from each of them. Doesn’t matter if its horror, thriller, fantasy or even romance. Every story has gifts to give. Even the ones that are badly written. Maybe especially the ones that are badly written.

As far as book structure, Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody is my current favorite writing structure book. It’s amazing. Door opening. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Do you have a day job other than being a writer? Do you like it?
I don’t currently have a day job. I did once—and kept writing while working 50+ hours/week—for many years. But thanks to the support of my wonderful wife and my wonderful fans, I get to make stories full time at home, every day.
Find out more about Todd and his work by visiting his website at