Authors R.A. Salvatore and Erin M. Evans have Forgotten Realms novels coming out in the next few weeks. We talked to them about the post-Sundering politics of the Realms and the nature of fantasy warfare.
The massive multi-author Sundering event has passed, leaving the Forgotten Realms looking a bit more like its old epic fantasy self. That doesn't mean there hasn't been massive upheaval, though. Drizzt is reunited with his reincarnated companions, and Farideh and company have literally been to Hell(s) and back, but it's tough to see what roles they'll play in the war-torn kingdoms of Faerûn.
io9: While Rise of the King and Fire in the Blood aren't directly connected, they both take place in the aftermath of last year's Sundering event, and both involve the wars that are sweeping across Faerûn. How did the Sundering destabilize things and create the conditions for war?
Erin M. Evans: The seeds for the war in Cormyr were sown after the Spellplague. This huge shift in magic destroyed a large part of their defenses, the War Wizards. The empire of Shade conquered their neighbors to the east, Sembia. And so they've spent the better part of the last century being very, very careful and trying to avoid a war with Shade that would crush them on two fronts. With the Sundering, Cormyr has finally recovered enough firepower to push Sembia back from encroaching on their eastern border. Unfortunately, this is when the Great Rain begins, bogging down the army and making room for Shade to strike. Shade's pretty clearly opted to go all in with the Sundering, and crushing Cormyr should be simple.
R.A. Salvatore: Mine is a similar tale, in that the Sundering set the stage for the renewed war in the Silver Marches. First, some important protagonists were reborn, perhaps to help Drizzt, perhaps to serve as chosen of one goddess, perhaps to further the aims of a dwarven god. These are questions for which they don't really have answers, and so their interpretations and beliefs take center stage.
Also, the ambitions of the Demon Queen of Spiders, deity of the drow, has led her minions to the Silver Marches, both to further her aims regarding the domain of magic and to put a fist into the eye of her rival, who favors Drizzt and his friends.
The Sundering created many power vacuums and power shifts, and into that chaos comes fertile ground for war and for writers with wild imaginations.
io9: In Rise of the King, the orcs are making a bid for power, while in Fire in the Blood, the situation in Cormyr seems pretty complex. Who are the major political powers at play in each book?
Salvatore: The War of the Silver Marches seems straightforward from afar - the orcs of Many Arrows, prodded by the drow, have decided to take on the alliance known as the Kingdoms of Luruar. Up close, however, it gets much more complicated, as the drow tease the frost giants to the side of the orcs, then throw in a couple of dragons (who have their own ulterior motives) for good measure. And of course, at a higher level, we've got a feud between a pair of goddesses, Lolth and Mielikki, kicking up the dust as well. And just for fun, let's go to another (higher?) level and find Jarlaxle getting involved, as per usual, on all sides.
Evans: On the outside, you have Shade and Sembia, but Cormyr itself is a nation divided. The king is very old. His son, the Crown Prince, as well as his grandson are leading the army in Sembia when they're attacked. The prince is left in a coma that the War Wizards can't break and the Crown Prince disappears when he uses magic to escape. The line to the throne is suddenly in upheaval and so you have several nobles trying to maneuver their candidates into place. The Crown Prince's daughter, Raedra; the king's late brother's bastard, Erzoured; and Brin, the same late brother's grandson who appears in the other Farideh books, all become candidates. And their families and cronies become players in this game for Cormyr.
io9: How does war affect a character? In some cases the war is a backdrop, in others the character is an active participant. Have you had experiences (or had them related to you) that influence how you depict war in a fantasy setting?
Salvatore: I'm from a military family, as is my wife. We've both seen PTSD up close (in my case, to tragic end). Even deeper than that, what I learned from my Dad and uncles, all World War II vets who saw heavy combat, is that such stress taught them a lot about themselves, good and bad. That's the whole point of writing to me - I put my characters under incredible duress, and from that comes their truth. In a way, I'm using them to try to find my own answers in life.
Evans: Where Rise of the King approaches war from a psychological angle, I think Fire in the Blood is more focused on the sociological angle. What happens to a society at war and what's the toll that looming threat takes? For instance, the nobles don't really take the threat seriously because it's not real to them, while the refugees coming in from the farms and villages are pissed things are moving so slowly and there's nothing they can do at first. There's a sense among them that Shade cannot be stopped.
io9: Bob, in previous interviews we've done, it's been fairly obvious that you weren't happy about the changes to the Realms that came with Fourth Edition [of Dungeons & Dragons]. I know you need to be diplomatic about it, but where do you think things went wrong?
Salvatore: The only thing that bothered me was the process (well, I still prefer the older versions of the game, too, but that's not my province here). Basically, we authors were handed a document and told how things were going to be. We were asked our opinions, but they mattered very little - the changes were being driven from a different direction. There's always a push-pull in game design/lore design, but in my books in particular, since the series has been running for more than a quarter-century now, the needs of the two can often collide. To have characters that have built such a strong history, then have that upset on the orders of someone else was very disconcerting. I will admit that the abrupt changes forced me into an uncomfortable place, and from that place came some of the better things I've written, but I very much preferred the way it was done this time, with 5th Edition and the changes, where we, the authors, were told what was happening to the game and asked how we could make the world and the lore live and breathe it. The summits for The Sundering are among the most creative and inclusive brainstorming sessions I've ever attended.
io9: How does your relationship to your characters change as you yourself change? Do you ever look back on a certain book or scene that you wrote years ago and see it in a different light?
Salvatore: Yes, of course. As I've said many times recently (and as I realized when I was annotating The Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories, my writing is my journey through life, and it'd be a short walk if I didn't change over the decades!
Evans: I'll let you know.
Seriously, it feels a little silly to answer this question next to Mr. Quarter-Century-Series here. But I agree, and I expect in the future the changes will be more noticeable and less, "Yeah, this was happening in my life when I wrote that."
io9: Erin, could you talk about the changing relationship between Farideh and Lorcan over the course of your novels? I think as Farideh has come of age, that dynamic has shifted in interesting ways.
Evans: Theirs is a really complex relationship. Lorcan is the half-devil Farideh has her warlock pact through, and a lot of how he's maintained that relationship is by playing off the fact she's very attracted to him. I think at first blush it might read as just your typical bad boy-good girl story. But I don't think I've ever made a secret of the fact that Lorcan is awful and meant to be awful. He might be sexy, but he's not a good guy. This isn't a romance—it's more of a tragedy.
As the books go on, as Farideh grows and becomes more confident, as she gains more power and knowledge and more of a support system, she's realizing that Lorcan's not doing her right and that loving him is not going to save him—or her. But at the same time, I think Lorcan coming to know Farideh better has made him realize that she's the only person he's ever known who actually cares about him. His life has been the Nine Hells and the warlocks he's made pacts with—everyone he interacts with is looking at him as a tool or an impediment and so he sees them with the same eyes. She actually worries about him, tries to save him, likes his company—sometimes. The tragic part is that I think this relationship will change the both of them for the better, but it might mean their undoing.
A friend of mine who left an abusive relationship had a therapist tell her, "We don't stay in relationships that we don't get something out of." Until we feel like the bad outweighs the good, we keep at it. Until we can see things we think are good are only suiting us because they're hiding bigger problems, we want that relationship. When it comes to fiction, it's easy to romanticize abuse or turn it into a morality play that ultimately strips the abused of agency, but I don't think it's as true or as rewarding.
io9: As any series featuring the same characters goes on, I think every author faces the danger of walking over the same ground. How do you fight against that? Is it a matter of physically changing your writing routine? Do you review your past work and consciously think about avoiding certain things?
Salvatore: Ha, I've worn deep ruts in the road over these last 27 years! But no, I don't go back each time (all I'd be doing is reading the mountains of books by now) or avoid situations for fear of repetition. I just follow the characters down the road and let them tell me what's next. I've changed, they've changed, and so even in familiar territory, the reactions will be different. And now, with the Sundering, the differences are profound. Some of my protagonists have changed dramatically, using their long and storied past as instruction on how this time, it will be different. You know when you sit back and reflect on your youth with the old cliche, "If I only knew then what I know now"? Well, here we go!
Evans: This is one of the nicest parts about working in a shared world: you can watch what the masters do and avoid a lot of stumbling around! This is only my fourth Farideh book, but what Bob says about following them down the road is definitely the approach I've always aimed for. By the end of each book things have changed to some degree and so the characters are different. You get to know these people really well—even when they surprise you there's a sense that yes that's them surprising you, that feels right.
io9: It seems like the fantasy genre has really been revitalized in the last few years, both in the Forgotten Realms and elsewhere. What current, non-Realms fantasy authors are you guys into right now?
Salvatore: DemonWars, my other world - in a way, my Forgotten Realms. I'm so busy between the two Drizzt books each year, my new DemonWars writing, my Kickstarter for my DemonWars RPG, and all the rest, that I hardly have time to read (fiction) right now. That said, I am very much loving "Outlander," the television series based on Diana Gabaldon's outstanding series. Ron Moore and his team have brought this to life brilliantly.
Evans: Lately I had a chance to binge on a bunch of novels I'd been eyeing (Hooray for vacations!) a chunk of which were great fantasy. So I'm now caught up on the Temeraire books by Naomi Novak, which I love. I read Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, which was such a fresh sword and sorcery book with an Islamic influence. And Ari Marmell's newest novel, Hot Lead, Cold Iron, which is kind of historical fantasy noir and plays off his voice so, so well.