They say that “evil begets evil.” But not always. Take Dan Koboldt’s new fantasy heist novel Silver Queendom (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) which — as he says in the following email interview — was inspired in part by a TV show about a heist crew with a very different moral compass than the crew in this novel.
To start, what is Silver Queendom about, and what kind of a world does it take place in?
It’s about a team of con artists who operate out of a ramshackle inn called the Red Rooster. They come up with all kinds of creative ways to separate people from their silver, whether it’s stealing jewels, fixing horse races, or making the occasional smuggling run. They never do a job unless they can get away clean. But when they find themselves in debt with the local crime boss, they’re forced to plan their most ambitious heist yet: boosting a shipment of the imperial dreamwine. It’s a priceless import in the Old Queendom that no one has managed to steal. If they pull it off, they’ll cover their debt and then some. Then again, there’s a reason that dreamwine has never been stolen.
This is an epic fantasy story set in a secondary world where magicians draw their power from coinage metals, giving a new meaning to the phrase “money is power.”
Where did you get the idea for Silver Queendom?
I think it started with Darin, the crew’s mastermind. Years ago I wrote a few short scenes where he’s in some kind of jam: caught stealing by the palace guards, forced to fight a duel in public, hiding in the foul-smelling compartments of a smuggler’s ship, that sort of thing. So I knew he was a career criminal, a confidence man. The rest of the story grew around him.
Why did you decide that Darin and the gang would run an inn as opposed to a brothel or a market or some other kind of business that could be used as a front for their con artistry?
Be honest, if the characters lived in a brothel, would you ever want them to leave? No, I didn’t think so. Besides, a brothel takes a certain number of employees, and a market requires product inventory. Compared to those, running an inn is a lot less work. Because it’s mainly a front for their criminal enterprises, they don’t necessarily want to do the best job, either. Few regular customers means fewer people noticing when all of the staff are mysteriously absent.
In the same vein, is there a reason they’re after a shipment of expensive wine as opposed to jewelry or a rare manuscript? Or, for that matter, some equally expensive non-alcoholic beverage?
There are some good story reasons this choice. Don’t worry, they steal plenty of other stuff, too.
And what exactly is “imperial dream wine”? Does it have magical properties, does it pair well with chicken…what?
Yes, it has hallucinogenic properties that cause the drinker to experience a vivid memory of happiness from their childhood. It’s like liquid nostalgia, in other words. Every person has a different experience, but it’s not hard to imagine why people would want that (or pay a small fortune for it). I imagine it pairs well with just about anything.
Silver Queendom sounds like it’s a fantasy novel…
That’s right. It takes place in a secondary world where magic is real, so that makes it fantasy.
But I would not call it classical Tolkien-inspired fantasy; there’s no fundamental good-versus-evil struggle, nor are elves and dwarves running around. I’d argue it’s closer to modern authors like Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch, whose characters are shades of gray. I’ve also called it an “epic fantasy heist” which isn’t at real genre, but more about the type of storytelling.
It also sounds like Silver Queendom might be a little noir.
Maybe a touch. The characters are all criminals and they operate in a fairly lawless part of the queendom. That being said, the book is meant to be light and fun and that seems to be how advance reviewers are taking it. I’m glad for that. Gritty, dark stories have their place but I’m all about escapism.
Now, Silver Queendom is not your first published novel. Are there any writers or stories that had a big influence on Silver Queendom but not on any of your other books?
Hmm, that’s a hard question to answer because Gateways To Alissia, my debut trilogy, is fantasy, too. I will say that since my debut, I’ve mainly read new SF/F. That’s partly to support friends and peers who are active in the field right now, and party because I want my own books to help push the envelope. So I’m inspired by people like N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Patrick Rothfuss, and Mary Robinette Kowal. And thanks to my own dabbling in the field, I’ve managed to meet all of them.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Was Silver Queendom influenced by any of those things?
The first thing that comes to mind is Leverage, a TNT show in which a crew of high-tech crooks try to steal from wealthy criminals and corrupt businessmen. It’s an ensemble cast, they’re smart, and they often take jobs that have the side benefit of helping regular people who are in a bind. The Red Rooster crew operates in a similar way; they’ll often take a job to help someone out, and they only steal from those who have too much wealth for their own good.
And how about the fact that you’re a genetics researcher? How, if at all, did that influence Silver Queendom? Or is it more that, as a genetics researcher, the last thing you want to write when you have time off from work is some hard sci-fi story that has to be peer reviewed?
Oh, I save the science for my science fiction. It’s not that I need a break from my day job — I love working in genetics — but more that I appreciate the escapism that fantasy offers. Part of that means I get to write about characters who are nothing like me, and who live in a world very different from this one. I still did plenty of research because there’s a magic system based on coinage metals, and it’s a pre-industrial society. I’m fortunate because I just edited a book called Putting The Fact In Fantasy in which historians, linguists, equestrians, and other experts share advice on writing accurately about fantasy-adjacent topics. I borrowed a lot of their expertise to make sure I got those things right.
You mentioned your Gateways To Alissia trilogy earlier, but you’ve also written such stand-alone novels as Domesticating Dragons [which you can read more about here]. What is Silver Queendom? Is it the first book in a series, or a stand-alone tale?
Committing to a series is always a risk because you never know how the first book is going to do. It’s funny that you called Domesticating Dragons a stand-alone book. I always thought of it that way, too. It was published in January 2021, when most of the world was in lockdown. However, Baen Books (my sci-fi publisher) did a really nice job putting the book out. Library Journal picked it as one of the best SF/F books of 2021, and it earned out its advance in the first year. Deploying Dragons, book two in the Build-A-Dragon Sequence, comes out in September.
All this is a long way of saying that I’m usually open to writing sequels if readers want them.
Right now, Silver Queendom is a stand-alone book with series potential. I’d love to write more stories with these characters in this world. That’s why I’m hoping everyone who reads this will buy the book, check it out from their local library, or tell a friend about it.
Earlier I asked about the movies, TV shows, and games that may have influenced Silver Queendom. But to flip things around, do you think this story would work as a movie, show, or game?
I’m told it’s a fast-paced story with witty dialogue, so I think it would adapt well to the screen. Movie franchises like Mission: Impossible and Ocean’s Eleven are essentially heist stories with ensemble casts. The huge success of Game Of Thrones and more recently series like Shadow And Bone demonstrate that epic fantasy works well on the small screen and can bring huge audiences to streaming services. In my opinion, a project that combines both heist and epic fantasy elements would do well. My agent and I put together a one-pager for Silver Queendom, but haven’t licensed the adaptation rights yet. Hopefully we will.
If someone does buy that pitch, who do you think they should get to play Darin and the other main characters?
Naturally, I’d let the professionals over at the CSA make the casting decisions, but I could easily cast actors from Game Of Thrones to play all the major roles. The easiest decision is casting Jason Momoa for Big Tom, the team’s hitter. Assuming we can’t get him, I’d try to cast Nonso Anozie, who played Xaro Xhoan Daxos so well. I’d like Richard Madden for Darin because he could pull of the impulsive mastermind with dark humor. Casting Evie, the Red Rooster crew’s seductive grifter, is probably the hardest. I might pick Esmé Bianco, who played Ros in season one.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about Silver Queendom?
I had a hell of a fun time writing it, so I hope they’ll give it a shot.
Finally, if someone enjoys Silver Queendom, what fantasy novel of someone else’s would you recommend they read next?
Fans of gritty fantasy with morally ambiguous characters would enjoy Obsidian by Sarah Daley. It’s about an outcast witch in a land of wizards who puts herself at mortal risk to protect her clans (in a world where the most powerful magic is supposed to belong only to the wizards). Anyone who likes the sound of that might want to check out your interview with Sarah from earlier this year.