Usually when a writer pens a novel that’s inspired by a game, any kind of game, the biggest influence on the novel is, well, the game. But in the following email interview about Death’s Kiss (paperback, Kindle) — which is connected to the Legend Of The Five Rings tabletop RPGs and card games, as well as the second book in his Daidoji Shin Mystery series after last year’s Poison River — Reynolds revealed it was also largely influenced by a series of classic mystery novels.
Let’s start with some background. First, what is Legend Of The Five Rings about, and when and where is it set?
Legend Of The Five Rings is a setting for both a role-playing game and a trading card game, centered on a fantasy world reminiscent of medieval Japan, including magic and monsters. The game has been around in one form or another for nearly thirty years and has a devoted fanbase.
Second, what is your Daidoji Shin Mystery series about, and how does it connect to the game?
The Daidoji Shin Mysteries is the catchall title for a series of mystery novels set in Rokugan, the nation central to the Legend Of The Five Rings setting. The series centers on Daidoji Shin, a wastrel scion of one of Rokugan’s most influential clans, who becomes something of a detective despite himself. Think of it like Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey series, except set in medieval Japan.
Third, what was Poison River about?
Poison River is the first novel in the series. A shipment of poison rice leads to tension between three great clans, forcing Daidoji Shin to investigate before war is declared.
And finally, what is Death’s Kiss about, and aside from being the second Daidoji Shin Mystery, how, if at all, does it connect to Poison River, chronologically and narratively?
Death’s Kiss is about a murder in the lands of the Unicorn clan — a murder that might be more than it seems, and one that might well lead to a war between two noble families. Both narratively and chronologically it follows along from Poison River, with certain characters and elements introduced in the first book carrying over and flourishing in the second book.
That said, it’s also a stand-alone story, so you don’t have to read the one to enjoy the other.
When in relation to Poison River did you come up with the idea for Death’s Kiss, and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote this second story?
I came up with the two ideas roughly in tandem, along with several others. When it comes to series concepts, I tend to develop ideas in batches. The initial concept for this book didn’t change much over its development, though I did tweak it in places.
How familiar were you with the Legend Of The Five Rings game before you started writing Poison River?
I was somewhat familiar, having read a few of the early novellas from a previous edition. Thankfully I had friends who were much more up on the background and willing to talk me through it. I made it a point to read up on everything game-related I could between the two books, as well. I’ve learned over the years that while familiarity isn’t necessary to write in a given setting, it is very helpful in making the end product something fans of said setting can truly enjoy.
Obviously, Death’s Kiss is a fantasy mystery, but are there any other genres that are at work in this story as well, and if so, are there any that were not present in Poison River?
There’s a through-line of humor in both books, though it takes a somewhat different form in each. The humor in Poison Riveris more situational, while Death’s Kiss is, in part, a comedy of manners, poking fun at Rokugani society and etiquette. There are also undercurrents of romance in both books, though involving different characters.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Death’s Kiss but not on Poison River or, for that matter, anything else you’ve written?
One of the ideas behind The Daidoji Shin Mysteries is that each book will be inspired by a different type of mystery novel — or that’s my intention, at least. Death’s Kiss is largely influenced by Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series, of which I’ve long been a fan. Given the nature of Rokugan’s justice system, it seemed fertile ground for that type of story.
Now, you are not the only person writing novels connected to Legend Of The Five Rings. David Annandale’s Curse Of Honor preceeded Poison River, while Marie Brennan’s The Night Parade Of 100 Demons [which you can read more about here] came out after Poison River. Did you ever talk to David or Marie about their books while you were working on yours?
I didn’t, no. While David and I have spoken often, we haven’t talked about our Legend Of The Five Rings work much — beyond me telling him how much I enjoyed Curse Of Honor. And I don’t know Marie at all, though I’m really looked forward to reading The Night Parade Of 100 Demons. I generally don’t like to bother other authors much, unless I have a good reason for doing so.
As we’ve been discussing, Death’s Kiss is not just connected to the game Legend Of The Five Rings, but is also a series unto its own. What are your plans going forward for this series?
Well, the series is open-ended, with each book being largely stand-alone. Certain elements do carry over from one book to the next, but you don’t have to read them in order to enjoy them. Going forward, I would love to…just keep writing them, you know? I have ideas for an homage to Christie’s Death On The Nile, as well as something inspired by Perez-Reverte’s The Dumas Club. I would also like to eventually work in some of the setting’s more fantastic elements and see how Shin and co. fare when put up against evil spirits and cults and the like.
Now besides Death’s Kiss and Poison River, you’ve also, in the last few months, published Wrath Of N’kai, which is connected to the board game Arkham Horror; co-wrote Day Zero: Watch Dog Legion, which was inspired by the video game Watch Dog Legion; and put out Manflayer, which is connected to the Warhammer 40,000 games. Have you ever considered maybe taking a break from writing to, oh, I don’t know, play a game? I can recommend some.
I’m a bit of a workaholic, sadly, so I don’t take many breaks. When I do, I mostly spend time with my wife and daughter.
That said, I do occasionally game when time permits — I’m a big fan of role-playing games, and I quite like stuff like Warhammer Underworlds, where I can paint a few models and play some games without having to cart around a hundred pokey bits of plastic.
Finally, if you could write a novel connected to any game, what game would you want to write a novel about and why that?
I’ve got two on my bucket list. The first is Vaesen, a new-ish RPG from Free League. Nordic horror / investigation set in the Baltic during the end of the 19th Century or the beginning of the 20th. It’s just a fantastic looking game, and a very cool setting. The second is Pelgrane Press’ horror RPG, Night’s Black Agents, which is a wonderfully crunchy spies vs. vampires game that I would love to write a good trilogy for.