to The Qwillery.
, the 3rd novel in the Something Red series, will be published on March 31st by Atria/Emily Bestler Books.
: Welcome back to The Qwillery. Throne of Darkness
is the 3rd novel in the Something Red series. Tell us something about Throne of Darkness
that is not found in the book description. How far after The Wicked
does Throne of Darkness
: Thanks for having me!
One thing that’s not mentioned in the book description is that we learn quite a bit more about Hob’s earliest memories. Throne of Darkness
takes place about three years after the end of The Wicked
; Hob is nearly 18 and Nemain is nearly 19 in this book.TQ
: How does being a poet affect (or not) your novel writing?Douglas
: I think it has a great deal to do with my prose “voice”; a tendency to vivid use of language, attention to the music in a phrase, and a search for the telling image—see the third example from the book, below. There’s also a slightly elevated, slightly formal tinge to the writing. TQ
: How has your novel writing process changed over the course of the 3 novels in the Something Red series?Douglas
: I don’t know that it has changed, much—I still need to have an idea of the arc of the story before I get started. In Something Red I stumbled upon a tripartite division of the book, with each part devoted to a different (and ultimately deceptive) refuge—The Monastery, The Inn, The Castle. I liked this three-part structure so much that I’ve decided to keep it for all four novels.TQ
: Over the course of the 3 novels, Something Red
(2012), The Wicked
(2014) and Throne of Darkness
(2015) which character has surprised you the most? Which character has changed the most? Douglas
: I think that to some extent the character that surprised me the most was Milo the ox. Molly has named him “Milo” because somewhere in her travels she has heard or even read—she’s intellectually formidable, our Molly, and has a wide circle of friends, and knows a great many things—the story about Milo of Croton, who lifted a calf in his youth and, in a triumph of progressive resistance, became a strongman as the calf grows to a bull. (This won’t work in real life, folks, because calves grow up too fast, but the principle is sound.) Hob’s very fond of him, and calls him “Lambkin” when no one else is about, an affectionate nickname he only barely remembers from before his parents were killed.
I knew oxen were timid, at least relative to bulls, and I had Milo hide his face against Hob’s chest early in Something Red
when the cry of the monster is heard in the forest. Later in the book I had Milo try to conceal himself from a fierce wild bull by putting his head behind Hob’s back, with the idea that “if I can’t see the bull, the bull can’t see me.” After the publication of the book a friend told me that she had visited a woman who kept two oxen, that the animals were
very shy, and that one of them had hid
his face behind his “mom.” I felt an affection toward this big, amiable, slothful, timid animal, and so I kept giving him more and more business to do, and people would write and say how much they loved this nonhuman and very peripheral character. That was surprising to me.
I think Hob has changed, and will change, the most. He’s a boy, after all, when the first book begins. Nemain is also growing up, but she is a year older than Hob, and has led a more varied existence, and is by training and heredity a priestess of the Mórrígan and a warrior queen in her own right, back in Erin, so she’s more grownup from the beginning. Hob is a teenager from a time before teenagers were a tribe unto themselves: you were a child, and you wanted to take your place in the adult world, and as soon as possible, you did so, imitating the adults, who knew more than you did. He’s a good person, but he’s not a goody-goody type—he’s just aware that those around him are excellent models, and he’s trying to learn from them; he’s down with the program.TQ
: You’ve done extensive research for the prior 2 novels. What research did you do for Throne of Darkness
: I had to find out a lot about hyenas! There were other topics about which I needed to learn more than I knew at the outset. For example, the fascinating people who call themselves the Imazighen, or “the free and noble ones,” and whom others call Berbers, which comes ultimately from “barbarian,” and which they don’t like. (Compare the people whom the English call “Welsh”, which comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “foreigner, stranger, enemy”; the Welsh call themselves “Cymry,” the “fellow-men.”)
The hook that I started with is a story about King John told by Matthew Paris, a monk writing in the middle of the thirteenth century. He said—and it’s almost certainly a libel: the monks hated John for his financial pressures on the monasteries to support his mercenaries—at any rate, Paris wrote that King John sent an embassy to the Emir of Morocco, and offered to submit to him and to convert England to Islam, if the Emir would help him against his enemies. The emir refused, saying that if John would betray his religion he would betray the emir. I thought, What if the embassy, waiting to go home in defeat, were to encounter a Moroccan sorcerer who could help the king with his rebellious barons? I was aware of the pagan Berber resistance against the advance of Arab Islam in the seventh century, and I posited that there would be some holdout pagans, and even sorcerers. When I researched North African legends and found the bouda
, blacksmiths who could change into hyenas—a variant is found as far south as Ethiopia—I was fascinated. The story grew from there. TQ
: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Throne of Darkness
They lay panting for a while, and then he rolled on his back and pulled her atop him, and contrived to cover her with his shirt, and held her for a while. He lay, utterly happy, looking up at the underside of the boards that were the floor of the hayloft: bits of hay poking down into the spaces between the planks; the square heads of hand-forged nails driven into a beam; a spider in its web, hanging motionless with a terrible stony patience.
* * *
The archway that led back into the corridor showed an impenetrable black. The ticking footsteps resumed, then paused. With hideous slowness, the misshapen mask of a hyena peered around the jamb of the arch. Black lips drew back from a jumble of huge teeth, and round mad eyes glared in at him. From the creature’s lips broke an eerie titter, followed by a bass snarl. A moment later it loped around the corner and sprang at him.
* * *
From a chest in the far corner da Panzano withdrew a packet with the papal seal, and tendered it to Molly, who put it into a fold of her garments without looking at it.TQ
“You do not look?” asked da Panzano.
“I will look later; if ’tis not what you promised, sure I’ll come to you again, my lad.”
For something said so unemphatically, thought Hob, this managed to convey a sense of terrible menace: the creak of a longbow at full draw.
: Will we be seeing more of Molly, Jack Brown, Nemain, and Hob in the future? Douglas
: There will be more, in the fourth volume, but I’d hate to see Something Red #37
—Hob and Nemain Go to Las Vegas
. I’d like the series to end where, without my saying it, the reader knows that They Lived Happily Ever After. TQ
: If a reader wanted more information about the historical period during which the novels are set, which books would you recommend?Douglas
: W.L. Warren, King John
; Frances and Joseph Gies, Life in a Medieval Village
; Matthew Paris, The History of England
; Elizabeth Hallam, The Plantagenet Chronicles
: What’s next?Douglas
: Next is the fourth and final book in the tetralogy, Three Queens in Erin
, in which Molly will return to Ireland and take her revenge.TQ
: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.Douglas
: My pleasure entirely.