Exclusive Interview: “Descent: Dreams Of Fire” Author Davide Mana


As any writer who’s done it will tell you, it’s a challenge to tell a new story about a popular character. But in the following email interview about Descent: Dreams Of Fire (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), his second novel based on the dungeon-crawling board game Descent: Legends Of The Dark, Davide Mana talks about how eager he was to get to tell Vaerix what to do.

Davide Mana Descent Dreams Of Fire Descent The Raiders Of Bloodwood

Robbie MacNiven did a good job of explaining what the game Descent is all about in the interview he and I did about his Descent novel, The Gates Of Thelgrim, so let’s get right into it: What is your novel, Descent: Dreams Of Fire about, and when and where does it take place in relation to the game and the previous Descent novels, especially yours, The Raiders Of Bloodwood?

Descent: Dreams Of Fire is the story of an exploration and adventure.

Nobody knows what’s going on in the upper left corner of the Descent map (the Molten Heath and the Verdant Ring), so the Dwarven Explorers Guild sets up a mission to map the region, and hires Vaerix, an exile from those lands, as a guide.

The various members of the expedition have their own agendas, the place they are going to is much more dangerous than they imagined, and for Vaerix going back to his birthplace means facing is past and settling a few scores.

The story is set about eighty years (give or take a few months) before both Robbie MacNiven’s Gate Of Thelgrim and my own Raiders Of Bloodwood. It can be read as a stand-alone, but it includes a cameo from one of the most popular character in Bloodwood. I’d love to bring together the plotlines of Dreams and Raiders in a novel someday, in a third novel.

Where did you get the idea for Descent: Dreams Of Fire?

The planning of the book started with a series of options. There were different characters and ideas the publisher would have liked to see, a lot of different starting points for different novels. I discussed these ideas with my editors, adding my input, and soon it was clear that Vaerix was going to be the main character, and the Molten Heath the main venue.

This was exactly what I had hoped for. Having been a geologist and paleontologist before I started writing full time… I mean, come on, a novel full of dragons, set in a landscape of volcanoes and lakes of molten rock? Let’s not tell my editors, but I would have paid to write this story.

So I got part of my core inspiration from my own experiences on the field, from my previous life, and fleshed them out with the memories of too many hours spent as a gamer, playing both Descent and more traditional table-top role-playing games.

Because field work was great, but severely lacking in dragons.

Vaerix, the main character, is a well-known and much-loved iconic character in the Descent world, and because of this, I had to work with precise constraints — a long list of dos and don’ts. This was a fun challenge, and still I retained the freedom to look into the unknown past of the character.

So I went looking for themes that I could explore in my story, and I decided to focus on loss, revenge, and second chances. Soon it became apparent that these themes were common to all the characters, one way or another. This provided the emotional core of the novel, and added complexity without dragging down the action.

As you said, the main character of Descent: Dreams Of Fire is Vaerix, who is a dragon hybrid. But is he a human / dragon hybrid, an elf / troll hybrid or some other mix?

In the Descent world, the term “dragon hybrid” describes a specific set of creatures, magically created by the dragons to serve as cannon fodder in their wars. They are basically genetically modified dragons crossed with (supposedly) humans. Thus they are a sort of humanoid / dragon mix, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes (with wings and wingless, etc.,) depending on who their dragon ancestors was.

After the war in the Third Darkness, many centuries ago, the hybrids have become sort of a mystery. Players in Descent usually meet solitary hybrids, serving as wizards’ bodyguards, or small communities of rogue hybrids haunting ruins. They are formidable adversaries, but seldom seen.

But this novel takes place in the very place that saw the birth of the hybrids, the ancestral domain of the dragons; this was a golden opportunity for me (and hopefully for the readers) to find out more about these creatures, their history and the conflict that is at the very heart of the story.

As for Vaerix, it was a challenge to write such a human, and at the same time non-human character. I tried to convey the thoughts and feelings of a character caught in-between two worlds, and trying of find some kind of balance. While still being as cool as Toshiro Mifune in a Kurosawa movie.

Descent is a fantasy game. Some call it high fantasy, some call it sword & sorcery fantasy. What then is Descent: Dreams Of Fire?

I leave the lofty atmosphere and the high-stakes of high fantasy to writers better than me. Kings and grand wizards, elven poetry and the fate of the universe, are not for me. I am a sword & sorcery kind of guy. I like the more down to earth, rough and ready flavor of fantasy. A form of fantasy that deals with low class, reluctant heroes having to face threats larger than life, for very basic stakes: saving their skin, pay their debts, avenge a wrong. Stories of dodgy wizards, tired sell-swords and double-dealing adventurers.

And all of these elements are featured, one way or another, in Dreams Of Fire. So I’d call it sword & sorcery.

On the other hand, Descent is flexible enough to adapt to both subgenres; and in Dreams we are dealing with the comings and goings of the mightiest of creatures, the dragons of the Molten Heath, and the destiny of a whole species, of a whole world. So there is a small shot of high fantasy, too, in Dreams Of Fire. For flavor.

Descent: Dreams Of Fire is not your first novel, let alone, as I said, your first Descent novel. Are there any writers, or stories, that had a big influence on Dreams but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not The Raiders Of Bloodwood?

I greatly admire such authors as Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Tanith Lee, Michael Moorcock, and Glen Cook (and Zelazny, and Wolfe…the list goes on forever). This does not mean that I try and imitate them (I’d never succeed anyway), but simply I cannot escape their influence when I write fantasy. I derive my grammar, so to speak, from their works.

But some author that has uniquely influenced Dreams but not Raiders? Ah!

I’d go and say Steven Brust, for the views on the politics and society of the dragons and dragon hybrids. Brust is a wonderful author that can write fast-paced, fun stories while delving into political intrigue and long-term plots and changes of front. When I felt like I was getting lost in the dragons’ power-plays, I went back to Brust to find my bearings.

What about such non-literary influences as TV shows, or games? Was Descent: Dreams Of Fire influenced by any of those things?

Lots. Descent, of course, which gave me a wonderful setting for my stories: and then endless games of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (yeah, I’m old), and other roleplaying games for my younger days: Stormbringer, RuneQuest, you name it.

I think the readers of my Descent books want to find something of the game in the story, and I am happy to comply.

Films… I already mentioned Japanese samurai movies, that provided some background on the martial culture of the hybrids. And I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of those films, as well as old anime, sprinkled in the action scenes.

In terms of TV series, I won’t mention that popular series full of dragons and things, because I was never able to get into it. I’d say The Expanse instead, for its portrait of a bunch of common people facing something that is way over their pay level. I took the multiple point of view in the narrative directly from The Expanse.

And then there’s the obvious question: Do you think Descent: Dreams Of Fire could work as a scenario for Descent?

I’m pretty sure you could play an adventure following the general outline of Dreams Of Fire without any problems. It features a good mix of action, problem-solving, and social interactions. There are a lot of characters in play, and that would offer the players a variety of option. And it would be fun to see how the story develops with a different party of adventurers. The only hurdle could be represented by the number of factions at play in the background, but I guess that’s really minor.

And I am certain Dreams could be easily adapted to the T.T.R.P.G., because most of the lore in the novel (except the new stuff I dreamed up) comes from the Terrinoth handbook.

So, do you think there’s anything else people need to know about Descent: Dreams Of Fire?

The only thing that comes to mind is to reassure readers with no experience with Descent that they do not need to worry. Dreams Of Fire can be read and enjoyed even with no previous knowledge of the setting. Sometimes entering a new universe can feel daunting, but my novel (just as all the others in the series) was written to stand on its own legs.

So, have no fear, read the book (and if you like it, write a review somewhere).

Davide Mana Descent Dreams Of Fire Descent The Raiders Of Bloodwood

Finally, if someone enjoys Descent: Dreams Of Fire, they’ll probably go back and read The Raiders Of Bloodwood, if they haven’t already. But once they’ve done that, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?

Only two novels of mine are currently available in English, so I’ll cheat and suggest them both. Neither are fantasy in the traditional “elves and dwarves” way, but maybe my readers feel like a change. The Ministry Of Thunder is a historical adventure with strong Indiana Jones vibes, set in China in 1937. It was my first novel, and it features a Chinese dragon, if only for a few pages. And should you like dinosaurs (who doesn’t, right), there is The House Of The Gods, a modern day lost world novel, featuring lots of dinos and once again a large cast of characters.



One reply on “Exclusive Interview: “Descent: Dreams Of Fire” Author Davide Mana”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *