It’s funny, some writers of epic fantasy tales take longer to issue their novels than their heroes take to complete their quests. But that’s not the case with Sarah Kozloff’s Nine Realms series: with A Queen In Hiding (paperback, Kindle) out now; The Queen Of Raiders (paperback, Kindle) coming February 18; A Broken Queen (paperback, Kindle) due out March 24; and The Cerulean Queen (paperback, Kindle) ending the saga on April 21. In the following email interview, Kozloff discusses what inspired and influenced this epic fantasy saga, and why getting all four books will take less time than it takes to simply walk into Mordor.
Photo Credit: Robert Lechterman
Let’s start with some background. What is the Nine Realms series about, and what kind of world is it set in?
I find it really hard to boil down 2000 pages. But basically, it is about a princess who must go into hiding and then win back her throne. I started the story with the idea: what would happen if Aragorn had been a woman and a realm awaited the return of the queen?
The world is pre-modern (no electricity, no guns) and contains only humans (no Orcs, no Elves, no Parshendi).
And then what is A Queen In Hiding about?
The Queen in Hiding is the beginning of the saga. It recounts how and why Cerúlia has to leave her homeland, how she grows to maturity in hiding, and sketches the geo-political storm rising around her, introducing other major characters and the magic system.
It sounds like A Queen In Hiding and the Nine Realms series is a fantasy tale. Is that how you’d describe it, or are there other genres or subgenres at work in this story as well?
Sure, “epic fantasy” would be the closest descriptor. A Queen In Hiding has elements of a “coming of age story,” and later volumes draw from westerns, war films, and musicals.
So where did you get the original idea for the Nine Realms series, and how did it evolve as you wrote the four books?
I happen to have a very memorable (and true!) origin story. I was sitting in a seminar at Vassar on American Women Directors, looking with the students at a chart on which films could or could not pass the Bechdel test. When I saw that The Lord Of The Rings could not pass this low bar for female representation, in that moment I decided to write an epic fantasy.
But from that original seed, everything changed. As an academic I never believed that characters could actually run away with a story, but now I’ve discovered that they do. Cerúlia bears little resemblance to Aragorn, and Ennea Món is nothing like Middle-earth.
A lot has happened, good and bad, in the realm of women’s rights and treatment lately. How, if at all, did #MeToo and other current events influence A Queen In Hiding in general and the Nine Realms saga as a whole?
Paul, the struggle for women’s equality has been going on in so many spheres way before #MeToo became a viral hashtag in 2017. I started The Nine Realms in 2013; it drew on my whole life as a woman breaking into “male spheres,” e.g. a college that had been all male. And I’ve studied feminist theory.
So aside from Tolkien’s tome, are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on A Queen In Hiding but not on any of the other Nine Realms novels?
A Queen in Hiding was the hardest of the four to write because it had to cover so many years and set up a world in conflict. Kirkus notes that Hiding is “propulsive” — the later books are actually tighter and go twice the speed. For a young child in a strange world, sometimes I reached toward the feeling Robin Hobb creates in Assassin’s Apprentice. For a harvest scene, I reread a chapter of Tolstoy’s War And Peace.
What about movies, TV shows, and video games? Did any of those have a big impact on either what you wrote in A Queen In Hiding or how you wrote it?
Everything I write is influenced by my years of studying and teaching classic film. I’m publishing a blog post on “Cinematic Writing” shortly.
To some degree the series must be explicitly indebted to Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings movies and HBO’s Game Of Thrones. But less predictable films wandered into my head, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Seven Samurai, and Johnny Guitar.
Now, as we’ve been discussing, A Queen In Hiding is the first book in the Nine Realms saga. What’s interesting is that instead of making us wait eight years and counting for the second installment — George! — the second book, The Queen Of Raiders, will be out in a month, with the third, A Broken Queen, out in March, and the last one, The Cerulean Queen, tin April. Does this mean that if you were writing The Cerulean Queen and came up with a fundamental change that you could go back to A Queen In Hiding and make changes?
Yes, I was such a novice to fiction publishing that I wrote all four books before I approached an agent and in revising I was able to go back and forth between manuscripts. This was an incredible boon; I did make a major change by moving a subplot from Hiding to Broken rather late in the game. More often I could just go back and seed little details that would pay off later, establish consistent character dialogue tags, or change character’s names. (With more than 600 names in the whole series, I worked very hard to establish patterns to help the reader keep people straight.)
With all four due to be released by the end of April, some people will wait until The Cerulean Queen is out and will then read all four books in a row. Do you think this is the best way to read the Nine Realms saga, or do you think people should take breaks between them?
This depends how speedily one reads and how much time one can devote. Since the publishing pace is breathtakingly fast, I don’t think it matters if a readers devours them one a month or all in a row. What I am delighted to avoid are the long gaps where you forget the story and need to be reminded who’s who and what’s what before you can start the next installment.
Some people who write trilogies or other series with a set number of books later expand their sagas with side stories or sequel series. Are you thinking that you might do this with the Nine Realms saga as well or are you thinking you’d like to write something completely different next?
I’ve been working on two new books, but I’d rather not be specific at this point.
Understood. Earlier we talked about the movies that influenced A Queen In Hiding. But has there been any interest in adapting it or the Nine Realms saga into a movie? Or a TV show? Or maybe a video game?
I have been approached by one book scout searching for material, and I have my own contacts in Hollywood, so yes, there is some interest.
Do you have a preference as to what format an adaptation takes?
I have long pictured The Nine Realms as a 4-season TV series. After all, it is completely finished! I know enough about the realities of TV production that I made a few deliberate choices so that it would be easily filmable without a lot of expensive CGI or hours of makeup. Hair color is a comparatively cheap and easy element to control.
And do you have any thoughts on casting?
Casting directors have their own magic. I think the best part of Game Of Thrones is the casting; Nina Gold found actors that no one had ever heard of before who brought the characters to life.
The only person I’ve cast in my head is a secondary character, Destra, Magistrar of the Green Isles. I see her as Emma Thompson [Men In Black: International].
Finally, if someone enjoys A Queen In Hiding, what fantasy tale of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for The Queen Of Raiders to come out?
For a female-centered fantasy I suggest Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, which is delightful in so many ways. For a series with a similar epic sweep and magical elements, Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Codex Alera is often over-looked these days while people concentrate on Butcher’s film noir-ish Dresden books, but it was the series that I used as my comp in my query letters.