by A.M. Justice
About eight years ago, my husband came home from work and announced that his coworker Peter had given notice so he could become a full-time fantasy author. Curious and skeptical, I bought the coworker’s book, thinking, “Let’s see what this guy’s got.” I quickly learned he had the right stuff. From the opening lines about a community gathering together in the wake of a strange fire, New York Times Bestseller The Warded Man hooked me, and I’ve been a loyal follower of Arlen, Lessa, Roger, Renna, Ahmann, and Inevera since. My copy of The Skull Throne, Book Four of The Demon Cycle, published by Del Rey, will be delivered to my Kindle today, and I look forward to reading it on an upcoming family vacation.
I admire Peter’s tight prose, inventive storytelling, and nuanced characterizations. Arlen is one of my all-time favorite fantasy heroes, and Lessa, Renna, and Inevera hold their own among fantasy’s growing pantheon of strong women. I was thrilled when Peter agreed to do an interview for the Guild of Dreams—so without further ado, here’s our Q&A.
Let’s cut right to the chase. The Daylight War ended with not just a cliff-hanger, but a cliff-fall. At the risk of spoilers, can you tell us whether we’ll travel into the demons’ domain with Arlen? How about Jardir—does he survive that fall?
Both these answers have been on my website for years now, but I don’t like to answer them in questionnaires. Everyone is welcome to see for themselves right here: http://www.petervbrett.com/excisions/skull-throne-chapter-1-the-hunt/
One of my favorite things about your work is how you show us the hearts of all your major characters. You provide readers with sympathetic, complete portraits of everyone, including those initially presented as villains. Will you be introducing any new points of view in The Skull Throne?
Yes. There are two new POV characters in Skull Throne. The first is Ashia, the niece of Ahmann Jardir who was introduced to readers in Daylight War. There is one flashback chapter of her life to give readers insight into her character, but most of her action is forward moving in the series “now” as she bears witness to some of the massive power shifts in Krasia following Jardir’s disappearance.
The other new POV character is Briar Damaj, a half-Krasian orphan first introduced in the short Demon Cycle story Mudboy, which later became the novella Messenger’s Legacy, which went on sale earlier this year. Messenger’s Legacy gives Briar’s heartbreaking life story, that of a six-year old child forced to survive alone in the demon-infested wetlands near Lakton. The novella ties directly into Skull Throne, and Briar’s story picks back up in the second half of the book.
It isn’t necessary to read the Demon Cycle novellas in order to enjoy the novels, but I really believe the shorter tales add a great deal when read in conjunction with the longer works.
The Krasians and Thesans loosely resemble medieval Arab and European cultures, respectively. Can you tell us why you chose those models, and whether your work is meant to comment on some of the conflicts we see in the real world
Personally, I see Thesa much more as Little House on the Prairie American Midwest than medieval Europe, but I take your point. I deliberately draw on both. For the Krasians, “Arab” is a little to narrow. I drew in part from ancient Greece, medieval Japan, ancient/medieval Persia, and Old Testament Judeo-Christian.
But that said, while I used those initial building blocks, both cultures, Thesan and Krasian, have evolved past the sum of their parts and taken on a life of their own in the series. I try to give both cultures around the same air-time, illustrating how there are complicated characters on both sides who honestly want the best for the world, even if they disagree on how to get there. If I’m saying anything about the modern world, it’s an attempt to remind people to try and see both sides of a problem/person before you judge.
On this site we talk about world-building a lot, and whether as authors we set the stage for our work before we write, or we create as we go. How have you approached the construction of Arlen’s world? Did you encounter any surprises?
I am very much an architect when it comes to worldbuilding. Certainly there was some discovery/creation as I was telling the story, particularly in the early books, but I tend to work from a very detailed story skeleton when I write, stepping out all the actions and much of the dialogue in a book before I begin writing the prose. So by the time I am at that level, most of the story problems have been solved and the events predetermined.
Then comes the hard part. Showing how the POV characters feel about said events, and trying to make the reader feel it, too.
What is your favorite scene or event in the series, and why?
It’s so hard to say, because so many of them have deep personal meaning to me, almost like great triumphs that actually happened in my life. But there are two scenes that never fail to choke me up. The first is Arlen’s encounter with Mother Elissa in The Desert Spear, and the second is the wedding that occurs in Cutter’s Hollow during Daylight War. I expect anyone who’s read that book knows what I mean.
(AMJ’s note: I get choked up thinking about those scenes too.)
Who are your favorite authors, and also your greatest influences?
Too many to properly name them all. I love CS Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy, and George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks is an amazing book, as is The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan.
The most recent books I have loved are Uprooted, forthcoming from Naomi Novik, Half a War by Joe Abercrombie, and The Martian by Andy Weir.
Is The Skull Throne the last volume in the Demon Cycle, or is there more to come?
The next book, The Core, should close out the Demon Cycle quintet. I have a broad story ARC for what happens and how it ends, but with my upcoming travel schedule promoting the imminent Skull Throne launch (www.petervbrett.com/appearances), I will likely not begin writing until May. If previous books are any indication, The Core should be done approximately 18 months after that.
Do you have any other irons in the fire you’d like to tell us about?
I am contracted for one more book after The Core. It doesn’t have to be a Demon Cycle book, but it almost certainly will be. Either a standalone set in Tibbet’s Brook taking place right after the events in The Desert Spear, or the start of a new series taking place a generation after the events in The Core. There will also be several more Demon Cycle novellas to come.
Many thanks to Peter for taking the time to answer my questions! For more information on Peter’s work, visit his website http://www.petervbrett.com.