With For The Killing Of Kings (hardcover, Kindle), writer Howard Andrew Jones is kicking off a new fantasy series he’s dubbed the Ring-Sworn Trilogy. In the following email interview, he discusses what inspired and influenced this story, his plans for it going forward, and why it’s mysterious but not a fantasy mystery.
Let’s start with an overview of the plot. What is For The Killing Of Kings about?
A jaded warrior and a squire are framed for a murder they didn’t commit, and must flee the city, pursued by the greatest heroes of the realm. They’re not only out to clear their names, but to learn why the great sword Irion — foretold to slay the king of the enemy Naor people — has been replaced with a forgery, and to recover the real weapon. As they search, they uncover some ugly truths about their own leaders, unearth some disturbing magics, and stumble into a Naor invasion.
There’s much more to it than that, but if I provide additional details I’ll give away some surprises.
The elevator pitch is that it’s a cross between The Chronicles Of Amber and The Three Musketeers. There’s a dedicated corps of warriors, who are pretty swashbuckling, like The Three Musketeers, and who are almost superhumanly competent, sort of like Amberites. They have a code of honor, rather like the musketeers, and the world and setting is more complex than it first seems, and likewise there are factions among these powerful players — not to mention deeper and deeper layers of intrigue and secrets — not unlike those found in Zelazny’s Amber books.
Where did you get the original idea for For The Killing Of Kingsand how did the story evolve as you wrote it?
It started with a single scene some twenty-five years ago, but if I tell you that scene I give away a major plot point. I don’t know where it came from — I don’t think it was inspired from anything else I was reading.
What the story really comes down to is the characters. I fell in love with them and couldn’t stop thinking about them. I created many of the central characters decades back, long before I was a practiced enough writer to bring a story featuring them to full realization. I had a few false starts with stories about some of them a quarter century ago, shelved that, and then tried again about fifteen years back, when more of the plot elements started shaping up, and some of the secondary characters came to life. But the story still wasn’t right. I kept thinking about the characters and their world and the challenges they faced came into focus. I started working with them again in 2015, and this time it finally started clicking.
ForThe Killing Of Kings is a fantasy story, but there’s a mystery afoot. Do you think of it as a mystery fantasy mash-up?
I don’t really think of it as a mash-up. A lot of great stories that aren’t big M mysteries have mystery elements, things that the characters have to figure out to understand what’s happening, or mysterious elements that the reader is eager to learn about, whether that be what’s really going on this time at Hogwarts, or what Gollum’s real backstory is, or what some villain’s secret plan is. My book is in no way a “whodunit” but it does have big secrets that our characters start out the story not knowing…especially one of the two primary protagonists, Elenai. As a junior member of her warrior corps there’s some backstory and classified history she’s never learned, and like all of her companions there are some deeper secrets that no one has ever heard the truth about. To survive, the characters have to not only navigate through the obstacles a variety of enemies have placed in their path, but figure out what’s really going on.
So in short, no, I don’t view it as a split genre story. That said, I’m a big fan of two-fisted detective novels, and in those there’s an awful lot of journeying to dangerous places to get the information you need to solve the puzzle. And you can certainly see that in my own work, filtered through a fantasy lens.
For The Killing Of Kings is not your first novel. Are there any writers or specific stories that you think had a big influence on For The Killing Of Kings, but not on anything else you’ve written?
Sure, and that’s The Chronicles Of Amber. While that’s been a touchstone for all of my writing, none of the previous works were as heavily influenced by it. Everything I just mentioned about secrets and layers, and deeper layers and mystery elements that have to be learned by the heroes — not to mention superhuman characters — is informed by my love of the original Chronicles Of Amber, authored by the late, great, Roger Zelazny. I discovered the series in junior high and it blew the doors off of my imagination. I’ve read the original Amber series the way some people read The Lord Of The Rings. I wrote about my love for the books in 2012 over at NPR [which you can read here].
I don’t want anyone thinking this is a pastiche of Amber — this is an original work — but I think that if you read Amberyou’ll see the influence, and if you liked it, you’ll find a lot of things to like in my series.
How about movies, TV shows, video games, or other non-literary influence; did any of those have a big impact on For The Killing Of Kings?
The elevator pitch isn’t a lie, because another huge early influence on me was my viewing of The Four Musketeers from the 1970s, the one starring Michael York and Raquel Welch. I believe it was one of the first movies I ever saw in a theatre, and man, did it leave an impression. I loved the camaraderie, and the warrior corps, and the heroes fighting against the odds, and the daring deeds and swordplay and bravery in the face of terrible opposition. I still adore both of those 1970s musketeer movies, and at this point I’ve long since read a lot of Dumas.
I’m really not much of a video game player. It’s not that I don’t want to play, it’s just that if I keep a good video game around I know I won’t be able to resist playing it, and then I won’t get any writing done.
As for TV show influences, I’m sure, at some level, the original Star Trek influenced something in the book. I don’t know what, but I grew up watching and re-watching reruns of that show, and it had an imprint upon my creative DNA and moral character. It always seeps into my writing somehow.
Speaking of non-literary influences, you’ve written four novels connected to the Pathfinder role-playing game: 2011’s Plague Of Shadows, 2013’s Stalking The Beast, 2015’s Beyond The Pool Of Stars, and 2017’s Through The Gate In The Sea. How, if at all, has working in a fictional universe of someone else’s making — and one that other writers contribute to — influence what you did in For The Killing Of Kings?
I’m positive that writing these four novels helped me grow as a writer — the more I write, hopefully the better I get. Certainly working with the Paizo Pathfinder outline process got me thinking about structure in a different way. It’s not a method that I use for my own work, but I learned by using it.
As far as the feel of the world in the new novel, or the kind of magic employed there, I don’t think there’s much influence, except in the reverse. I didn’t want any hint of character classes or Gygaxian style magic, and I didn’t want elves and dwarves and trolls, etc. I don’t have anything against those concepts, mind you — there’s a reason they have such wide appeal. But I wanted to chart my own course.
Now, as we’ve been discussing, For The Killing Of Kings is the first book in your Ring-Sworn Trilogy. What can you tell us about the other books?
The second novel is already written, and I’m nearly done addressing editorial suggestions for it. I’ve outlined the third and final book and have a rough draft of its first few chapters. In other words, things are pretty well planned out and under control.
I can’t guarantee when the next one will be released, but I think it’s obvious from what I’m writing here that readers won’t have a long wait. I can’t imagine it being more than a year before the next one comes out, and it may even be sooner. I fully expect the third one to be ready at the same interval after the second.
Right now the title of the third novel is tentative, but it’s looking more and more like book two will be titled Upon The Flight Of The Queen.
If the series does well, I’ve the germ of an idea for a sequel series, and a more fleshed-out idea for a series set hundreds of years earlier, but what I write after will depend upon fan reception. I’m actually much more inspired by my brainstorming about unrelated series ideas right now.
Asyou probably know, some people wait until every book in a trilogy is available before reading any of them. But is there a story-based reason why you think someone should read For The Killing Of Kings now instead of waiting? Of that they should wait?
Yikes — I didn’t know that people waited, although I suppose I could understand why, if there was going to be a multi-year gap between books in a series. You won’t find that with my work, so hopefully there’s no reason to delay.
Honestly, that kind of “wait ’til it’s done plan” gives me the chills. If people don’t buy the books, then the later ones might never get written because the publisher and booksellers could assume no one wants to read my work! I sincerely hope that if people are interested and want to wait that they pick up the books and just read them later… Otherwise, they’re dooming all but the bestselling writers to failure.
Earlier I asked if For The Killing Of Kings had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting For The Killing Of Kings and the Ring-Sworn Trilogy into a movie, show, or game?
Well, I haven’t heard any noise about it, but the promotions stage of this book is just getting rolling and the book hasn’t reached that many reviewers yet. I have fingers crossed. I had some interest about The Desert Of Souls, but nothing’s happened with that. If I do get any interest I’ll wait until I get serious offers before I get excited this time.
But I think the books would probably be better adapted into a short series. There’s an awful lot going on within them, and a lot of the detail would be lost if they had to be trimmed down into movie length. Maybe they’d work at Lord Of The Ringsmovie length, though….
If For The Killing Of Kings was being made into a TV show, who would you like them to cast as the main characters?
I’m terrible at answering these kinds of things. I don’t get out to the movies as much anymore, not enough to name more than a few really famous actors, or singing animated characters.
And as someone who never plays video games I have no idea what kind of game it should be, much less who should make it.
Finally, if someone enjoys For The Killing Of Kings, which of your previous novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Up until this novel, my favorite of all of them was my second Arabian fantasy novel, The Bones Of The Old Ones. The Dabir and Asim novels were described by one reviewer as a cross between Indiana Jones and a Sinbad movie, and by another as a mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and The Arabian Nights, and I think both comparisons hint at the feel of the books. Boneswas well received by critics, and like For The Killing of Kings, got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. It’s historical fantasy, set in ancient Arabia, with a first-person narrator who’s opinionated and flawed, but also loyal and brave.
Of course you might still want to read the first book, The Desert Of Souls, which is the origin story of the characters who star in Bones. But as I mentioned above, both books are stand-alones.
If you want to try my Pathfinder stuff, I’m prouder of the latter two novels, both featuring a seagoing treasure hunter named Mirian Raas. I feel like I really hit my stride with those and would probably have written more, given the opportunity; the Pathfinder Tales novel line is on hiatus. But some fans seem to prefer the main characters in the first two books, which are more traditional with their setting and characters. Beyond The Pool Of Stars and Through The Gate In The Sea are both set in the tropics and have a different feel from standard medieval fantasy game novels.