So, that’s a wrap. I’ve sent in the finished manuscript for the first Drakenfeld novel, tentatively titled A Death Divine (though that’s not confirmed yet).
What’s it about? Well, if I could summarise that in a paragraph, I probably wouldn’t have written a book; so I take it as a good sign that I can’t. Essentially it’s about a guy called Lucan Drakenfeld. He’s an officer for an organisation responsible for enforcing the law that binds a continent, and kings and queens, together in a royal union. It’s pretty much his story – he returns to his home city of Tryum when he receives news of his father’s death, and there’s lots for him to cope with on arrival such as burying his father’s ashes, and he spent most of his life living in his shadow. That’s the backstory. From there, Drakenfeld and his assistant are summoned in the middle of the night to investigate a very high-profile murder, which takes place in a locked room (or locked temple to be precise), where despite hundreds of potential witnesses, no one saw anything related to the killing. From there, all sorts of stuff happens.
The aesthetics for the world, as you might have guessed from various blog posts over the past year or two, is very much borrowed from the ancient world. The more I examined classical cultures – Greece, Rome, Byzantium, Carthage – I was increasingly surprised. These were staggering cultures, massively more sophisticated than I’d ever realised, and even though they were very distant, they feel uncomfortably close to our own. Fantasy writers often borrow from history, usually the middle ages for the most part, whether it’s a conscious or unconscious act. Using classical culture as the starting point allowed me so much more freedom.
A few very general notes about the book:
- Whereas I tended to work forwards for the previous series of books, I had to start at the end and work backwards for this one. That’s because at heart it is a crime novel. I didn’t want to write a pastiche piece of sub-noir crime fiction either, since the crime genre is vast and nuanced. Imagine an author who wanted to write fantasy and ended up writing the usual fantasy-by-numbers? Indeed, fantasy fans would be pretty pissed-off. So this book had to function perfectly as a crime novel, too, which meant I had to change my approach to planning.
- One aim of this book was to write a mature piece of fiction that did not rely upon violence alone to get its thrills. That’s not to say it isn’t rough at times, but there’s been a noticeable trend in fantasy fiction in particular to try and gross-out or be full-on in graphic violence, a celebration of death, which is a stark contrast to our real-world attitudes. I’ve often said that violence really, really does not make a book mature, so instead of mouthing off about it, I wanted to plug that idea into a book. It ended up with Drakenfeld being cerebral in a world full of macho posturing, where he tests his logic and faith against matters, rather than hitting out with a sword. After all, people are far more useful to him when they’re alive.
- This is the first time I’ve written in first person, and I’ve found it far more natural than writing in third-person. It started off as a challenge to myself, but first-person seems so much more useful, especially for a crime novel. As a result, I enjoyed it: perhaps because of its intimate nature, I really connected with the story, themes and characters more than previously.
- I’m far more aware of not white-washing a cast of characters than I ever used to be. There’s been some great debate online in recent years which, if authors care to take it all in, they can learn a lot from. Previously in my work race has been split down the species line, so this time I had to be more accurate.
- As mentioned before, I wondered if I was relying too much on weirdness for the excitement of novels, rather than the excitement and cool coming more from the structures of story. I also am increasingly convinced that readers tend to be put off by really surreal characters or events in fiction, and it prevents them from taking in certain ideas or themes. The challenge, then, was to get my kicks from elsewhere.
And personally I believe this book far better than anything I’ve done before, from the prose itself (more sensual than brutal) to the structure. Writers can learn a lot with each book they write, so with a series done, hopefully I’ve done just that. If anyone was put off by previous work, I like to think this book is different enough, and far more considered, that they’ll give it a shot.
I’ll probably have more details over the next few months, but I think we’re currently looking at a publication date for summer next year. And thanks to those of you who read early drafts to give feedback. I’ve not really done that before, so you were an immense help.