For years, fantasy writer Peter V. Brett has expanded his Demon Cycle series with almost as many novellas as he has novels. In the following email interview, Brett discusses the latest of these shorter tales, Barren (paperback, Kindle).
Photo Credit: Karsten Moran
For those unfamiliar with the Demon Cycle series, what it is about, what is Barren about, and how does Barren connect to the Demon Cycle series?
Barren is the story of Selia Barren, the Town Speaker of Tibbet’s Brook, where the Demon Cycle series begins. It can be read independently of the series, or as a companion book. In the context of the series the novella is Demon Cycle book 6.1, with the primary events occurring concurrently with the events of The Core.
Barren shifts back and forth between the “present” in the year 334 AR — when the events of The Core take place — and the “past” half a century earlier in 284 AR, when Selia is 20.
In the present story, Tibbet’s Brook is still adjusting to the return of warded weapons. After centuries of helplessness, the Brook folk are finally beginning to fight back against the bloodthirsty demons preying on their town. Feedback from the magic weapons has a healing effect that has begun to affect the town elders who are active in fighting. Years are melting away, and old problems resurface as they do.
In her old age, Selia had settled into a life alone, but as her youth and strength are restored, other needs are awakened. She begins an affair with a woman fifty years her junior, hiding it from a judgmental populace as she struggles to prepare the town to face a rising threat as the demons suddenly increase in numbers and cunning.
But there is a reason Selia married a man and lived so many years alone a widow, and before she can move into the future, she must resolve her past.
Where did the idea for Barren come from and how different is the finished novella from that original idea?
Selia was one of the very first characters I created; she is introduced on page two of chapter 1 in The Warded Man. An older widow organizing the rescue and salvage of a town borough massacred by a demon attack.
We learn the Brook folk refer to her as “Selia The Barren” — though never to her face — because her marriage failed to produce children. The term began as a mark of shame in a world where demons have hunted humanity nearly to extinction, but Selia has turned it into a term of respect. She has made the whole town her children, and folk are glad she’s around in times of trouble.
But I knew, even then, that Selia wasn’t really barren. I was just waiting for the right time to tell her story.
I envision the Demon Cycle as a series of character studies at a pivotal moment in history, when humanity is in freefall toward total extinction. The first three books each had a primary protagonist, telling their life story to illustrate how events in their past influence the choices they make in the present.
Selia’s POV was planned to be the anchor for book 4, which became The Skull Throne. Originally, the title was Tibbet’s Brook, and it was meant to serve as a “and now for something completely different” after the cliffhanger ending of book 3, The Daylight War.
It was so deliciously cruel when I first conceived it. How the readers would howl! But I knew, too, that they would quickly be drawn into Selia’s tale, forgiving my evil twist as Selia’s storyline brought isolated Tibbet’s Brook back into the fold of the Big Events occurring elsewhere in the world.
But the more the story grew, the harder it became to work into the main series without causing pacing issues. Throughout the series, I have used novellas to tell Demon Cycle tales like this one, that didn’t quite fit within the novels. These novellas are all modular, serving dual purpose as a gateway for new readers who have never read a Demon Cycle book before, as well as longtime fans.
Barren, like the rest of the Demon Cycle, has been identified as a fantasy story. But do you think there are any fantasy subgenres, or combinations of them, that describe this novella better?
The Demon Cycle is generally considered Epic Fantasy, and I think overall that’s the best way describe it, but there are definitely aspects of the series that buck that definition. I originally conceived of Tibbet’s Brook as something akin to Little House On The Prairie with demons, an isolated small town and this story is definitely in that vein.
Pioneer Fantasy, perhaps?
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Barren but not on any of the previous tales in the Demon Cycle? Or, for that matter, any of your writings?
No, I can’t cite any major influences for this story. It’s been germinating slowly at the back of my head for many years.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big impact on Barren?
Not in a direct sense, but I would be lying if I didn’t get ideas from other media. Movies like Pitch Black and Brotherhood Of The Wolf, not to mention Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, were big influences on the Demon Cycle concept itself, but not particularly with regard to Barren.
Now, while fans of the Demon Cycle are obviously going to be excited to read Barren, there are undoubtedly some fantasy fans unfamiliar with this series. It would seem, though, that Barren is probably not the best place to start. Do you agree?
No. Anyone can pick up Barren, with no prior knowledge of my work, and get a complete story that tells them everything they need to know about the world and about my books in general. There would be a handful of series spoilers, but they would be balanced by a new depth to Selia’s scenes in The Warded Man and The Desert Spear that longtime readers didn’t get to experience.
So what are your plans going forward for the Demon Cycle? Are you working on more novellas, a new novel, some short stories…?
I have signed contracts for three more Demon Cycle books, but these will take place 15 years after the events of The Core, with a new cast and locations. The two primary protagonists will be Olive Paper and Darin Bales. Work has begun on the first book, The Desert Prince, which should publish from Del Rey Books in the US and Harper Voyager in the UK in late 2019 or early 2020.
Along with the novels and novellas in the Demon Cycle, you also wrote a four issue run of Red Sonja comics collected as Red Sonja: Unchained. Have you ever thought of writing one of the Demon Cycle stories as a comic?
It’s true I am a huge comics fan, and I have plans to make a series of Demon Cycle graphic novels, likely with my Polish illustrator, Dominik Broniek, who has done amazing work bringing the series to life visually. But, alas, I have two young kids, and a bunch of novels under contract, and I just haven’t had the time. Part of the joy of the project would be doing the writing myself, so it needs to wait until I have time to give it my full attention.
Earlier I asked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that may have influenced Barren; has there been any interest in adapting Barren, or the rest of the Demon Cycle, into a movie, show, or game?
The Demon Cycle series has been optioned twice. First by Paul W.S. Anderson [the Resident Evil movies], who had an amazing vision and genuinely wanted to make the project happen, but it was early in my career, and there wasn’t enough name recognition to secure funding.
After a few years, the option expired and was re-acquired by another production team who have hired Darklight Entertainment to adapt the books into a TV series, with each being its own season.
Of course, there is a long path from there to a studio green light, so for now we can only hope. Thankfully, I am already making a living doing what I love, so I can afford to be patient.
If the Demon Cycle was to be adapted into a movie or TV show, who would you like to see cast in the main roles?
I think I would much prefer the television route, which would allow all the smaller character study stories that make up the series to each get their own focus. My dream cast for Warded Man would have a Star Trek reboot era Chris Pine as Arlen and Rocketeer-era Jennifer Connelly as Leesha. Alas, the actors keep aging.
Way back in 2009, when the books were first optioned, we did a little casting call contest on my blog. Many of the results still hold up [as you can see here].
And if someone wanted to make the Demon Cycle into a video game, what kind of game should it be and who should make it?
I see the world as an MMORPG that would allow characters to grow and explore in their own ways. There is so much about the world that I have yet to reveal, and still more to explore.
Finally, if someone enjoys Barren and the rest of the Demon Cycle, what fantasy novella would you suggest they read next?
It’s a good time for the novella format, which was once all-but dead in print, thanks to new on-demand printing technologies and electronic media. A favorite of mine is Dominion by C.S. Friedman. The story ties into her Coldfire trilogy but, like Barren, can be read independently as a gateway into Celia’s wonderful work. I also enjoy the Iron Druid novellas by Kevin Hearne, which also don’t require knowledge of the larger series.