With Daughter Of Redwinter (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), writer Ed McDonald is kicking off a new epic fantasy series called The Redwinter Chronicles. In the following email interview, he explains what inspired and influenced this fantastic tale, and how it, and this series, will be different from his Raven’s Mark trilogy.
To start, what is Daughter Of Redwinter about, and what kind of a world is it set in?
So, Raine is a young woman who can see the dead, a talent which, if discovered, will see her put to death. She suffers a terrible tragedy, and to protect her from grief a magical scars is cut across her mind, sealing it away. Raine struggles to feel empathy, while becoming embroiled in a conspiracy by those who wish to use her for their own ends.
The world of The Redwinter Chronicles has a Scottish feel — moorland, clans, that kind of thing.
Where did you get the idea for Daughter Of Redwinter, what inspired it?
In terms of setting, I can trace my Scottish ancestry back to the 1790s, and wanted to put that part of me into the world. There’s something awe-inspiring about Scotland; even today it feels like it’s part of an older world.
I find that whatever I try writing, it always ends up being the story of “what has been going on in my life” in some way. It’s a strange way to think about this book, because I am not a seventeen year old girl who can see the dead, but the themes permeate. There are themes that look back on depression and isolation I’ve experienced, but also the hope that gets you through it. The magic, the world — all of them are of secondary importance to me compared to the character journey.
And is there a reason why Raine’s power is to speak with the dead as opposed to speaking with animals or being able to read someone’s mind or just being a witch with multiple abilities?
There most definitely is. The magic system (I kind of hate the term) for The Redwinter Chronicles is pretty complicated, and Raine’s “gift” is both driven by her past and will determine her future. It’s fun to come up with a power that’s not really very useful at all — in fact, you would wish you didn’t have it — until suddenly, you realize what you can do with it…and what you can do with it is terrible indeed.
It sounds like Daughter Of Redwinter is an epic fantasy tale. Is that how you’d describe it?
It’s definitely epic fantasy, although maybe it can be described as “coming of age” as well. Although it doesn’t go easy on the characters, and at times is unflinching in its grit, there’s a lot of hope for a better future in there, and like all my books it’s love that will see you through in the end. Romance always plays a part in my writing, and the inexperience a teenager has with those feelings always makes for a great story. But this story is for people who love worlds with long, rich histories, clans at odds with one another, magical powers, and the monsters that lie below.
Daughter Of Redwinter is your fourth novel after the three in your Raven’s Mark trilogy: Blackwing, Ravencry, and Crowfall. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Redwinter but not on your previous novels?
Daughter Of Redwinter is a big departure from Raven’s Mark. It’s far less nihilistic, and stylistically very different too. I’d say that Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy has impacted all my writing, but it’s much more obvious with Daughter Of Redwinter. I wanted to try to tell a story about a character who feels as deeply realized as Fitzchivalry Farseer, to give people the same emotional impact those books had on me when I was a teenager. Whether or not I succeeded is of course up to the reader.
It will probably surprise readers of Raven’s Mark but I’ve binged Sarah J. Maas’s books since then, and maybe there’s a slight influence there, too. Should I say that? Well, I’ve said it I guess.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, and games? Did any of those things have a particularly big influence on Daughter Of Redwinter?
I think we’re all influenced by everything we consume, whether it’s for good or bad. I only realized the other day that Star Wars kind of has a bit of an influence in terms of themes of the desire for power and the dark side.
My biggest influence of all is a video game called Myth: The Fallen Lords, a 1997 strategy game by Bungie. There’s just this amazing atmosphere throughout the whole game, delivered in these little journal entries between levels. Myth in turn owes a lot to Glen Cook’s The Black Company, but I don’t know how much I count Glen’s work as an influence — I didn’t read them until about 20 years after I played the game.
And how do you think you studying medieval swordsmanship influenced Daughter Of Redwinter?
Sometimes knowing more means you just appreciate that you know less. In The Raven’s Mark I was writing about a protagonist who knows all the things I’ve learned about swordsmanship, but in Daughter Of Redwinter, Raine is young and untrained, and so I think that’s as important as anything else. Sometimes you don’t know how much you don’t know, until you know it. She’s really just a kid at the start of the book, so it was important that she didn’t cut a swathe through hordes of professional soldiers. I made her an archer instead. I suppose the main thing is in understanding just how long a training montage she’ll need in order to only be competent at a basic level, and how raw physicality affects people when fencing. She’s not the swordswoman in this book, but there are others who have the training to get up close and messy.
Now, Daughter Of Redwinter is the first book in what you’re calling The Redwinter Chronicles. What can you tell us about this series?
We have 3 books planned in The Redwinter Chronicles. I’d love to extend it out to seven books (and was originally planned that way in its proto-form, back in 2012), but it all comes down to sales — if enough people like it, then it would be great to take it further, but every book in a series loses you readers — you can never have more readers for book 2 than for book 1, right?
It’s currently a trilogy because that’s the book deal. Publishers like to buy books in twos or threes, and while a seven-book deal sounds impressive, it can be very bad for an author to take a long deal. If the first book tanks (and that can happen for many reasons beyond an author’s control), then you’re left contracted to write a fourth, fifth or even sixth book that has no audience.
Do you know yet what the rest will be called and when they’ll be out?
I think we’re looking at Traitor Of Redwinter in 2023 and Renegade Of Redwinter in 2024. I’m about 80% done writing Traitor, and Renegade will be finished before the second is out. For the Raven’s Mark I put out one book a year, and so the schedule is something I’ve worked to before. I’m lucky in that on a good day I put out 5,000 words or so, and about 3,000 on a slow one.
So is there any connection between this series and the Ravens Mark one?
Shhhh, that would be telling.
There are a couple of Easter Eggs thrown in for those who’ve read Raven’s Mark, but you’d never know that if you hadn’t. I like the idea of a combined universe across all my books, but I also want them to be separated enough that you don’t need any knowledge of one to enjoy the next.
And then, on the flipside, how do you think Daughter Of Redwinter and The Redwinter Chronicles are different from the Ravens Mark trilogy?
In the Raven’s Mark, the protagonist was a surly, 40-50 year old alcoholic working for the state. I think maybe I wanted to write something really different this time around, as Raine is a 17 year old who has a magical ability from the off. There was very little magic system in Raven’s Mark — magic was mysterious, alien cosmic horror — but it’s front and center in The Redwinter Chronicles and revolves around existentialism.
I think that Redwinter probably fulfils more traditional expectations of the genre that Raven’s Mark did, and may have a lighter tone. Even though it’s about seeing the dead. And eating souls.
Earlier I asked if Daughter Of Redwinter had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around, if I may, and ask you if you think Daughter Of Redwinter — and thus the entire Redwinter Chronicles — could also work as a movie or series of movies, a show, or a game?
Oh, absolutely. It’s most authors’ dream to see their novels move to screen. My ideal would be for each book to get a 10 part streaming series (Netflix, Amazon etc.) as I think that the long-format would enable them to really show the characters. An RPG video game, or animation would also be great. All of them.
So, if someone wanted to make it into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Raine and the other main characters?
I’ve always pictured Raine as Jennifer Lawrence [The Hunger Games], but I think I’d really love to see a relatively unknown actor play her, as then the audience would come to her with no preconceptions. I’ve really enjoyed some of [Dune‘s] Zendaya’s films lately, and would be interested in seeing her give it a shot. I tend to think actors should be chosen because of their ability to portray the character rather than whether they match a particular character description.
And if someone wanted to make it into a game…? You said you’d want it to be a role-playing game…
I used to be really into video games when I was younger — I worked on World Of Warcraft as a Game Master for two and a half years, but I don’t have time to invest anymore. Elden Ring has been doing fantastically lately, and really pushed the boundaries, so something along those lines with a complex skill advancement magic system would be my ideal.
So, is there anything else that people interested in Daughter Of Redwinter should know before deciding whether or not to buy it?
I like to go into books knowing as little as possible, but I would say that this is a book in which I’ve tried to portray the realities of being seventeen (even if it is in a fictional universe). So Raine makes a lot of mistakes, even ones that will frustrate the reader, and that’s intentional: being seventeen is hard. It’s the age where you start doing adult things and having adult responsibilities, but have no experience doing any of them. Raine’s learning and trying to find her identity while navigating ghosts, violence, trauma and magic so she’s going to get a lot of things wrong.
There’s no love triangle in this book, but there is more than one romantic interest, in part because I feel that there need to be stories about feeling those strong, romantic feelings but that the likelihood of finding “the one” at that age (while it does sometimes happen) doesn’t allow for the character to experience a lot of other things. I wanted to give Raine a realistic journey through relationships, which are often painful.
Finally, if someone enjoys Daughter Of Redwinter, what epic fantasy novel or series of someone else’s would you recommend they check out next?
This is a really hard question because I want to choose something that people won’t already have read. If you like Daughter, then you probably already read R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War. There’s J.V. Jones’ Sword Of Shadows but the last book in the series has been 10 years in the making — still well worth a read though. Anthony Ryan’s Bloodsong is a good bet if you enjoy Daughter Of Redwinter, although the two have as many differences as similarities.
I also recently read T. Kingfisher’s Nettle And Bone, and I dare anyone not to enjoy it.