Published in 2017 by HQ Digital, an imprint of HarperCollins, Den of Shadows was the first in a trilogy about a travelling show train. Originally titled Gambler’s Den after its namesake vehicle, the concept was born after listening to Gimme Some Loving by the Spencer Davis Group during a college class and envisioning a Jack Sparrow-like character hanging off a train boiler as it travelled through a desert.

The original iteration of the story was lost after a USB stick it was saved on failed, and the story had to be rewritten from scratch. In it were significant differences. Franco had more of an eccentric dress sense. Misu would be a little more excitable in her personality. Ketan would be kidnapped and become the bait of a trap, tied to a post in a village built into the side of a mountain. Subsequent versions refined a lot of these ideas. Some of these original iterations still exist as sketches and written outlines.

Some characters series-hop with yet-to-be-published titles, most notably Wyld whose trial to track down her companion Umbra is a three-part series set in the north. This co-written series with Emma Byford was completed before Den of Shadows and is currently being reworked.

Den of Shadows underpins a lot of concepts that would be used in the future and, as such, it’s a great starting point for any future titles.


Franco Del Monaire

Franco Del Monaire

Owner of the Gambler's Den

A born entertainer. A calculating boss. Franco’s showmanship is rivalled only by his fierceness to keep his enterprise running. Cool and compassionate, he was once a rogue until his grandfather forced him to help renovate what would become the Gambler’s Den. He’ll go to great lengths to ensure the Den’s security, even if that means turning on friends or breaking agreements. He has a strong kinship with Jacques and has been growing closer to Misu who has become his confidant.

Misu Pontain

Misu Pontain

Head Showgirl of the Gambler's Den

Employed to manage the needs and wellbeing of the showgirls on board, Misu also acts as front of house for the Gambler’s Den. Though she and Franco flirt relentlessly at times, they share a deep mutual respect and know where the lines are drawn. Her demeanour may be charming, enough to captivate patrons with her fire breathing performances, but beneath this flamboyant confidence, Misu struggles to keep herself together at times on account of past trauma. At her heart, Misu is a survivor, though maybe not quite as proficient as she used to be.



Head of Security for the Gambler's Den

A former street thug, Franco offered Jacques a job to provide muscle as the trains head of security. Ever watchful, Jacques has a knack for detecting most trouble brewing during a show and has no qualms dragging the culprits out by the collar if need be. He strives to remain professional, attempting to ensure Franco remains level-headed in highly charged situations. Unfortunately, his roots ensure that a buried temper is keen to get the better of him.

Wilheim Fort

Wilheim Fort

Criminal entrepreneur

Ruthless, cruel, and all-powerful, Wilheim owns an unchallenged criminal empire that runs from racketeering and slavery rings to drug dealing and hijacking, with many operating from legitimate fronts like the Lavender Club. Having organised multiple gangs to work for him, Wilheim’s reach extends all throughout Windberg, to the point where even Bluecoats are bribed to look the other direction. With Sheriff Juniper cracking down on corruption, Wilheim has begun to feel the pinch and needs new enterprises to pursue. After the famed Gambler’s Den rolls into his city, Wilheim sets his sights on owning it, no matter the cost.

Sheriff Juniper

Sheriff Juniper

Sheriff of the territory of Windberg

It takes a hard man to bring justice to a city as dysfunctional as Windberg, and Sheriff Juniper is as hard as they get. Uncompromising in his sense of justice, his priority taking up the badge was to crush the numerous gangs enterprises operating in the city. This has led to multiple attempts on his life, some even being performed by corrupt Bluecoats. His ambition has helped galvanise the people of the city to push back against corruption, but still remains in the dark as to who is running the bigger operations. The arrival of the Gambler’s Den is met with suspicion and Juniper is convinced that those aboard are up to no good.

Wyld Arhms

Wyld Arhms


A discovered stowaway, Wyld now pays her way on the Gambler’s Den financially but also provides Franco with regional information as well as details of the more shady elements operating at their stops. Nomadic in nature, Wyld is travelling from the South of Surrenth to Eifera in the North in the hope to find her companion Umbra, the details of which she’s cagey to reveal. Her journey is funded by the theft of historically important trinkets, these spoils then sold to various brokers. Wyld tends to catch a lot of the blame for anything going wrong on the train, with some of the showgirls seeing her as bad luck. When possible, she avoids confrontations.



Showgirl and cook of the Gambler's Den

One of the youngest of the showgirls, Kitty is a recent fiery and feisty addition to the travelling show. A former country girl, she’s as adept handling customers as she is in the kitchen and doubles as the trains cook. Her boisterousness can get her in to trouble, something Corinne seems to suffer with more than most. Still, when the situation requires it, Kitty has no qualms about picking up a firearm to defend her new home. To her, it’s just like picking off cyotes back on the farm.



Senior Showgirl of the Gambler's Den

Fierce and headstrong, Corinne has overcome a difficult past to bring a sense of maturity to the showgirls, the younger ones of which require a commanding presence to keep them from falling out of line. Close friends with Misu, the pair were hired at the same time, both being the first showgirls picked up. On the surface she seems nothing but professional in interactions, but Corinne’s hardened exterior was formed from years of abuse as a captive in a slave ring, While she sees the Gambler’s Den as her home, past experience has rewarded her in being ready to move on when the right opportunity arises.



Showgirl of the Gambler's Den

Friend to all, Katerina is regarded as the most approachable showgirl aboard the Gambler’s Den. She’s already ready to field a question and take care of any woes should it be in her power to do so. This leads her into befriend Wyld while the other girls view her with such scepticism and before long the pair build quite the rapport. Katerina maintains her outlook to be the product of a thankful, positive mindset, but this gets tested when the odds are stacked against all on board. Unfortunately for her, Katerina is regarded as too trusting, leading to her taking everything on face value, which becomes a problem should someone be trying to deceive her. 



Situated at the southern landmass of the continent, Surrenth is somewhere few would want to travel to willingly. The region is a rocky, desolate mass with an arid desert running down its centre. The climate, which mostly favours heat above all else, can be punishing, even for those who live here. The population is a 70/30 split from descendants of prospectors to the natives dubbed “settlers”. Crime, poverty and manual labour are the order of the day, with most employed in one of Surrenth’s many mines or quarries, be they legal or not. Living conditions can be harsh, the average life expectancy rarely peeks above 50, so it would be questionable as to why anyone would want to live here. The simple answer is that they can’t leave. Travel on a train or sand ship is costly. Relying on people smugglers is a fast track to getting killed or enlisted into forced labour. For the unscrupulous there are fortunes to be made thanks to the huge demand in the north for raw materials on account of the war effort, For everyone else, it’s a depressing existence to endure.   


An unforgiving desert located from the North of Surrenth to the South and flanked by sheer cliffs, the Sand Sea is the main transport corridor for the region, where huge sand ships and trains move around the regions excavated ore deposits. Among this route are numerous port towns, villages and checkpoints, where poverty is rife and criminality – mostly – unchecked. There’s a number of much larger settlements, even cities, that have managed to spring up despite regional challenges. A surprisingly large amount of animals can be found here, scavengers mostly, though in their midst there’s more nightmarish beasts to encounter such as the alarmingly brave wolves and terrifying cliff bears.


The outer regions of the Sand Sea are dubbed the Bad Lands, spaces of complete desolation apart from a smattering of ghost towns and failed mining attempts. The lawless occupiers use these locations as bases of operation for conducting raids on the trains or the sand ships passing through. Bandit camps are not uncommon out here and many embrace a nomadic life in the struggle to stay alive. Those who manage to do so are famed for their hardened demeanour and knowledge of the dangerous local wildlife.


One of the largest cities in the South of the Sand Sea, Windberg put its success down to being in the premium location for sand ships traversing the corridor. A bustling port city, everything can be brought and sold here. The lower dock district is a haven for mercenaries who are easily found selling their services as security to vessels in one of the many bars for travellers. Huge shipyards provide repairs for the vessels which enter Windberg. An expansive merchant district with accompanying marketplace brings traders from all over the south, but the backstreets are blighted with black market sellers and basement traders keen to avoid the scrutiny of the law. Outside of this, cramped streets with houses squashed together reveal a city that grew too quickly, The upper districts, where the affluent live, are at a higher level and much more pleasant by comparison.



The renowned show train the Gambler’s Den is a recommissioned Eiferian 433 hauler, known for its reliability and sturdy nature. Left dormant in a junkyard in Esquelle, Franco’s grandafether won it in cards and set about recommissioning it with his grandson Franco in the hope of putting him on a better path in life. When running, the Gambler’s Den pulls multiple carriages, stockcars and a dining car as well as Franco’s own personal car which is off-limits. At its rear is a rudimentary roof-mounted cannon used for deterrent and defence,  Driven by Russo, the Gambler’s Den has an understandable handful of quirks given its age, but one would never presume such from looking at its flashy exterior. Its impressive presence has made it a legend throughout the Sand Sea, with many refusing to believe it even exists.


Officially regarded as a ‘gentleman’s club’, the Lavender Club is the front to one of Wilheim Fort’s favourite enterprises. Doubling as his favourite place to relax, this flashy establishment entertains the richest and most powerful in the city – along with some of its worst. Entertainment is regular, everything from singers and burlesque. The club is armed with a bevvy of beautiful women who are assigned to provide any services visiting VIPs may require. but while these so called ‘Lavender Girls’ are all smiles and grace, in reality they are prisoners: random women who have been picked up or snatched by thugs, or naïve country girls seduced by the allure of the big city and led astray. The Lavender Girls constantly change, being that they’re sold into prostitution, or taken on as concubines by those who can afford them. Forced to comply with the ever present threat of violence, death and drug taking, the Lavender Club is symbolic of the rot that inhabits the core of the city.



The mainstay religion of the entire region, the Holy Sorceress underpins most belief systems in the known lands. It’s origin goes back before humans could speak the words to tell her story. The highly abridged version of the myth is that the world is maintained by the grace and civility of the Holy Sorceress, a being of unimaginable might who was born from mankind’s protectors dubbed Sealers, who cultivated human upbringing since creation. With the Sealers extinct, tales of her brigade of warrior Angels have been etched throughout history to assist mankinds survival. She is appeased by acts of goodwill and generosity, though a good number of splinter religions believe her to celebrate destruction, or deny her outright. The colour yellow is synonymous with the Holy Sorceress, and by extension, the Sealers who adopted it in their outfits. This has led to the colour being considered bad luck or cursed, with entire countries seeing those who wear it as an act of defiance against a monarch or governer.  


Before mankind walked the lands, they were the territory of Spirits – fantastical beasts that could cause devastation if left unchecked on account of their strength, ability or harnessed magical power. The Sealers possessed the ability to pacify these beings, trapping them away to be transported or disposed of, so humans wouldn’t meddle with things far from their understanding. In these times, Spirits are all but extinct now, with local folklore either celebrating interactions with men or lamenting the chaos and death as a result. These tales served as warnings for misbehaving children, but explore further and there is a deep respect for these beasts, especially in the peoples who live more isolated than most, with many still giving offerings to pacify them in whatever form this takes.  


With little to look forward to, a favourite pastime of people in the Sand Sea is indulging in fortune telling. Various regional superstitions gave birth to different fortune telling techniques, a good number of these being completely fabricated. The traditional Settler method is to utilise finger bones of the dead and to interpret answers to questions after a vigorous shake in a bowl. Fakes use animal bones or other meaningless props such as crystal balls. Katerina, however, learnt card reading in her teenage years. The D’Alowin Storian cards operate similarly to tarot, though the entire set is comparable to  a tarots major arcana, lacking suits. In this set of 43 cards, 3 cards are defined as ‘blessed’ and refer to nothing but good fortune, whereas 2 are considered to be harbringers of tragedy and death respectively.