Please welcome Douglas Nicholas to The Qwillery. Throne of Darkness, the 3rd novel in the Something Red series, will be published on March 31st by Atria/Emily Bestler Books.
TQ: 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 take place?
Douglas: 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?
Douglas: 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.
“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.
TQ: 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.
TQ: 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.
Throne of Darkness Series: Something Red 3 Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, March 31, 2015 Format: Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages List Price: $16.00 (print) ISBN: 9781476755984 (print) Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher
Perfect for fans of Game of Thrones, this novel from acclaimed author Douglas Nicholas continues the gripping dark fantasy series that Kirkus Reviews describes as “a more profound Harry Potter for adults.”
It’s 1215 in northwest England—the eve of the signing of the Magna Carta—and mystical Irish queen Maeve and her unlikely band of warriors must protect the region from a chilling fate. Word of a threat reaches the Northern barons: King John has plotted to import an African sorcerer and his sinister clan of blacksmiths, whose unearthly powers may spell destruction for the entire kingdom. Along with her lover, Jack, her gifted niece, Nemain, and Nemain’s newlywed husband, Hob (whose hidden talents will soon be revealed), Maeve must overcome a supernatural threat unlike any she’s seen before.
With his characteristic blend of historical adventure and intoxicating mythological elements, Nicholas once again “goes for the throat…with brilliant writing and whip-smart plotting” (New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry). This is a richly woven tale that will leave you hungry for more.
In Throne of Darkness Douglas Nicholas returns to the world of Molly, Nemain, Jack and Hob that he introduced us to in Something Red and continued in The Wicked. In Throne of Darkness King John I of England (of Magna Carta fame) is building a sinister army to defeat the Barons. Molly (Queen Maeve) is approached to counter King John's plans. She's not really asked this time but is coerced into her greatest challenge yet.
Molly and Nemain are Queens of clans from Ireland. Molly is in England building allies and biding her time until she can return to Ireland and she and Nemain can reclaim their thrones. And build allies she does. Throughout the 3 novels, Molly's and her group's adventures have been genuinely riveting and entertaining.
Molly is the leader. She is easy to love and admire. She's regal, intelligent, kind and a formidable practitioner of the (supernatural) Arts. She is also not someone to trifle with. Nemain is her granddaughter. I've watched Nemain grow up during the series. She is fierce, a skilled fighter and also a practitioner of the Arts she learned from Molly. Jack Brown is a former mercenary with a secret. He came to Molly for help and has never left. He is a huge man, skilled at war, but is also a gentle and kind soul. You do not, however, want to be on the wrong end of his battle axe. And Hob, now Nemain’s husband - I've also watched him grow up throughout the novels. In some ways Throne of Darkness is more his story. I finally understood Hob's potential and future in Throne of Darkness. He's become a brilliant fighter throughout the series. Hob is in for some big changes, some of which left me quite emotional.
Douglas Nicholas' writing is lyrical and elegant. He places you deeply into the era he is writing about. You can see the sunlight flickering through the trees and the dust lift off the road as the wagons go by. You can feel the joys and sorrows of the people. You can practically taste the food.
Nicholas imbues his Something Red series with the supernatural, which is really superbly done. He is a master of placing his story and characters within the context of real events and making you believe in them, care about them and root for them.
Throne of Darkness is a wonderful novel, full of history, thrills, the supernatural, and deeply engaging characters. I absolutely love this series and highly recommend that you read each book in order.
Note: Nicholas provides a pronunciation guide, a Glossary of Irish Terms and a Glossary of Archaisms and Dialect Terms.
Photograph by Kelly Merchant
Douglas Nicholas is an award-winning poet, whose work has appeared in numerous poetry journals, and the author of four previous books, including Something Red and Iron Rose, a collection of poems inspired by New York City. He lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with his wife Theresa and Yorkshire terrier Tristan.
Something Red 1
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, June 18, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
Published in Hardcover, September 18, 2012
In an intoxicating blend of fantasy and horror, acclaimed debut novel Something Red transports you to the harsh, unforgiving world of thirteenth-century England. An evil and age-old force stalks the countryside—who dares confront it?
Something Red 2
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, March 25, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 368 pages
A thrilling and intoxicating journey to a land of legend, where nothing is quite as it seems. . . .
Something evil has come to reside in a castle by the chill waters of the North Sea: men disappear and are found as horribly wizened corpses, knights ride out and return under an enchantment that dulls their minds. Both the townspeople and the court under Sir Odinell’s protection live in fear, terrorized by forces beyond human understanding. But rumors of a wise woman blessed with mysterious powers also swirl about the land. The call goes forth, and so it comes to be that young apprentice Hob and his adopted family—exiled Irish queen Molly, her granddaughter Nemain, and warrior Jack Brown—are pitted against a malevolent nobleman and his beautiful, wicked wife.
Richly set in the inns, courts, and countryside of thirteenth-century northwest England, The Wicked is a darkly spun masterpiece that will leave fans of epic fantasy thirsty for more.