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I thank Caterina Franciosi, Director of the “Literary Living Room”, who sent us an interesting and “historical” interview with the author Marco Rubboli, which allows us to delve into pages of epic novels with just the right touch of the fantastic.

The edition of the StraGulp 2024 fair in Turin hosted, among others, the writer Marco Rubboli. The author has dedicated himself for decades to historical European martial arts, such as medieval and Renaissance fencing, Greek boxing, pankration and gladiature; he is an instructor at the highest level with numerous national competitive titles and founded the largest European reality in the sector: the Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo which boasts numerous branches in Italy. His fiction publications include the saga of For the Steel Crown for the GDS publishing house and the story The last heroes of the arena for the National Fencing Academy, as well as the series dedicated to the Black Praetorians which the author spoke about at the event conference. The works dedicated to these characters appear on Italian Sword & Sorcery, on the website For the Steel Crown (https://www.lacoronadacciaio.it/), where there is also a spin-off, The Black Forest Sect, and for the publishing house Delos Digital. The last published volume is Blood-stained silkfor the oriental fiction series “La via della seta” edited by Caterina Franciosi.

Hi Marco, welcome and thank you for being here with us today. The Black Praetorians are very different characters from those your readers have known in the world of For the Steel Crown. Could you introduce them to us and tell us what their origins are?

Unlike what happens in For the Steel Crown, the Black Praetorians live in a world where magic is clearly present (and I’m talking about dark magic) and where there are also fantastic animals that I love very much but are instead absent in the Kingdom of Malia. In short, I returned to a totally fantasy world, which however derives from a case of “sliding doors” that differentiated it from ours. Here the Romans won the battle of Teutoburg and the Empire expanded into Europe, Africa and Asia far beyond the borders we know. Over the centuries, however, central power has waned and the Emperor has become in some respects similar to a medieval Pope: apart from Italy, which is considered sacred, he exercises more of a moral and economic control over the rest of the territories. , and contributes to the defense of external borders. For the rest, all power is delegated to vassal sovereigns. But what really changed everything was the Uprising of the Children of Darkness. In an explosion of long-stored and repressed black magic, necromancers, witches, vampires, and all manner of supernatural beings have breached the gates of Hades to attempt conquest of the Empire and the world. They were defeated, at great cost, but since then they have traveled the streets of our world in search of food, blood, revenge, and sacrificial victims for their rites of power. Our story begins in what for us would be the end of the 15th century, five hundred years after the Uprising, and follows the events of an elite squad of Black Praetorians: the Emperor’s cohorts appointed to track down and eliminate the Sons of Darkness. Our heroes have freely chosen to dedicate their lives and deaths to this fight, because all of them are survivors who have painful memories in their past and loved ones lost due to the fault of the enemy. This is what pushed them to the extreme choice of joining the Imperial Inquisition.

Two great factions, therefore: the Black Praetorians against the Sons of Darkness, warriors against superhuman beings. Could you tell us something more about it?

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These are actually themes and situations that had been “simmering” in my mind for a while. Not everyone knows that in the Roman Empire the punishment for those who used magic was burning at the stake, just like in the Middle Ages. The writer Apuleius himself risked a conviction following accusations made against him after the release of The Golden Donkey, a famous fantastic story where there are spells (which poor Apuleius had copied from the Greek Lucian!). This derives from a “black only” conception of magic that was part of the Roman mentality and which can also be seen in the “horror” episode of the witch narrated by Lucan.

In the world of the Black Praetorians all this is reality: the shadows of the night can truly open at any moment to seize unsuspecting citizens in a deadly embrace. When the gates of Hades burst open, spewing out the horde that has made the world a dangerous place ever since, the Emperor founded the Black Praetorians to eliminate the threat. They raised the banner with the Cerberus, symbol of their desire to bring back to the Underworld all those who have escaped from it. Like the three-headed dog of mythology, they hunt down damned souls and drive them back to their tombs, preventing them from harming the living. The Imperial Inquisition therefore abhors magic and makes no use of it, under any circumstances: they are only men, numerous, trained and trained to the extreme, armed with the best that the Empire can provide. Among them the elite is made up of the Sanctified, who have sworn never to have a family or a private life, dedicating themselves entirely to the cause.

On the other side we have the Children of Darkness. They are endowed with superhuman powers and consider themselves superior: a predatory species that has the right to feed on common people as well as sacrifice them to gain greater power, use them as guinea pigs for magical experiments and do whatever they want with them, in short, a little ‘ like humans do with farmyard animals. They believe this is part of nature and absolutely normal. In general, even those who were once human think they have ascended to such a superior state that they don’t have to worry about those left behind… unless they prefer to change even those who were once dear to them, to bring them to a new level of existence. They consider themselves rulers by right, oppressed by a flock that should have been at their service and instead by force of numbers, dirty tricks and an absurd rebellious will continues to rise against them.

It seemed interesting to me to contrast these two irreconcilable forces. The clash is without quarter, there is no possible compromise as there can be between a predator that wants to feed itself and a fierce prey that does not intend to give up. Only one of the two sides will prevail and survive.

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For the Steel Crown and in general all your stories are characterized by war strategies and combats reported to perfection, especially with regards to historical fencing. Even in the tales of the Black Praetorians you decided to maintain these peculiarities?

As readers will have the opportunity to see, the Black Praetorians use the best of a “fantasy” military technique and technology: that is, I have taken ideas and inventions from classical antiquity and the Byzantine world to their extreme consequences, adding some further subsequent discoveries. Furthermore, the pragmatic Romans did not at all disdain adding to their arsenal the fantastic beasts that appeared in the world following the Insurrection and which were found free from the influence of magic. The tactics and training that the Praetorians use is the result of millennia of classical military thought not forgotten due to the barbarian invasions. All individual and team actions are designed to be realistic, albeit in a context that is not realistic. The difference is that in For the Steel Crown we have men trained in fencing and warfare fighting each other, so it makes sense that they would perform sophisticated techniques with the sword. In this world, however, the swords of the Black Praetorians are used against claws, fangs, tentacles and horrors of all kinds, so they use their weapons in a slightly less refined and more brutal way. We don’t greet each other and we don’t elegantly warn ourselves against a vampire or a werewolf: the Tribune Lucretius, my protagonist charges him with full force. It’s not the type of fencing I prefer… but it’s what he does well!

So in this world there is no room for the Black Praetorians for anything other than the hunt for the Sons of Darkness?

The Black Praetorians wage a constant, largely secret war to allow the citizens of the Empire to lead normal lives, free from the terror that would otherwise grip them. As far as the Black Praetorians are concerned, however, there should be nothing other than the preparation for the fight and the fight itself. In particular, the elite of the Sanctified cannot have a family or stable romantic relationships that distract them from their duties. In the top team that we follow, however, there is an exception, because the Tribune Lucretius and the former gladiator Maevis are lovers. The rest of the team knows this, and so do many others in the Cohort they are a part of, but they all turn a blind eye to their successes. They themselves often have doubts that their clandestine love could interfere with some mission and cause a disaster, but they are not willing to give it up. The situation is even more delicate given the role they cover: in fact Lucrezio is the officer who leads the team while Maevis, once a glorious athlete of the arenas, is a provocative, a category whose name was taken from a type of gladiator who actually existed. In the Black Praetorians, however, it indicates a particularly dangerous role often taken on by female members of the army: pretending to be a helpless victim to lure the Sons of Darkness into a trap. One can imagine how Lucretius could experience this continuous positioning of his love for him as bait to attract upon himself the horrors that infest the darkest recesses of the Empire. Both know that what unites them will not last, because the life of one of them, or both of them, can end violently at any moment.

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Blood-stained silk it is therefore the last episode dedicated to the Black Praetorians. Could you tell us something more about it?

The story is part of the series dedicated to the Praetorians but, just like the others, it can easily be read as a stand-alone, self-contained story. You can find other stories of the Black Praetorians in Shadows on Dacia, Delos Digital Heroic Fantasy Italia series, on Hyperborea.live or on my website. This time, as you can imagine from the title and the type of series in which it was included, my protagonists are sent to the East, to Japan, where they will have to investigate the disappearance of the Roman Empire’s ambassador to the Mikado and deal with dragons, ninjas, yokai and sumo wrestlers. The combat, with the constant comparison between Eastern and Western martial arts, the intrigue and the fantastic equally divide the space and time of the story.

I liked imagining the collaboration and short circuits between Japanese culture, in a world where all Japanese myths are real and live on the sidelines of human society, and Western culture in its Roman variant. The characters belonging to one or the other civilization never cease to be amazed by the specificities of the other side, and at the same time feel disorientated and respectful. The only one who knows a little about Japanese culture, having already visited those lands in the past, is the protagonist and narrator: the Tribune Lucretius, who had also had a brief love story over there, a thought that irritates him quite a bit. former Irish gladiator Maevis. In all of this, our heroes will have to conduct an investigation into the diplomatic clash between the two Empires, following the disappearance of the Roman ambassador in Edo, today’s Tokyo. The story unfolds between investigation, combat and spells, with a dark machination that envelops the Black Praetorians and their samurai allies in a lethal plot.

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