With Song Of The Risen God (hardcover, Kindle), iconic writer R.A. Salvatore is concluding The Coven trilogy he started in 2018 with Child Of A Mad God and continued a year later with Reckoning Of Fallen Gods. In the following email interview, Salvatore discusses the origins of this series and its setting, and how he’s thinking his next novel may continue the story for some of its characters.
Let’s start with a quick overview. What is The Coven trilogy about, and what kind of world is it set in?
Second part first, The Coven is set in my world of Corona, a large and growing fantasy realm. I created the world in the mid-’90s, spending months putting together the history, the societal structures, and most importantly, the magic system, which revolves around gemstones.
The world was detailed in the DemonWars Saga, a 7-book series. I added to it with a 4-book series, Saga Of The First King, set hundreds of years previous, which detailed the unification of the main kingdom of the lands, as well as shedding more light on the founding of the Abellican Church, a central player in the world.
Now the world has grown much more in The Coven, where I’ve added new lands, new societies, and a slightly different take and utilization of the magical gemstones.
The story itself starts off with my favorite subject: having the guts to speak out against injustice when it’s not easy. I love stories of people standing up to tradition when that tradition is simply immoral. I thought the trilogy would stay on that personal story of growth and courage, but got surprised as I went along and ventured a bit farther to the west. There I found an entirely unexpected and new society, and one that I couldn’t ignore. That’s why I love Corona: it always surprises me.
And then what is Song Of The Risen God about and, aside from being the third and final book of The Coven trilogy, how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the second book, Reckoning Of Fallen Gods?
I hate questions like this. Trying to condense 120,000 words into a couple of paragraphs is daunting. In the first book, [Child Of A Mad God,] we see the rise of Aoleyn. Headstrong, morally determined, the young woman changes the region with her stand against her own tribe, changes the relationship with magic in the region, and inadvertently opens the doors to a sweeping change that will alter the known world of Corona.
When in relation to writing Reckoning Of Fallen Gods and Child Of A Mad God did you come up with the idea for Song Of The Risen God and how did that idea change as you wrote this third novel?
From the first book to the second, I was caught by surprise. I didn’t know the xoconai existed, let alone that they would become the primary focus of the series. The third book, however, is the logical follow-up to the second. The dogs of war have been loosed, and now they need to be harnessed, or destroyed, or maybe, in the end, they will sadly rule the day.
In the previous interview we did for Child Of A Mad God [which you can read here], you said this series was inspired when, “I watched Natalie Dormer’s portrayal of Ann Boleyn on The Tudors. I find Boleyn to be one of the most fascinating characters of history, who used her every tool, in a toolbox limited by gender, to do things she thought right and good.” Was Aoleyn inspired by Boleyn on The Tudors in Song Of The Risen God as well, or was she more inspired by some other character on that show?
When I say “inspired by,” I’m talking in very broad terms. I don’t inject Ann Boleyn into Aoleyn. There was just something about her character, her philosophy of life — in this particular case, illuminated by Dormer’s portrayal — that gets me to thinking.
So to answer your question, no. Once I got rolling with Aoleyn, she told me quite clearly who she was. Once I knew that, she led me on the journey, no outside influence (at least regarding her character) or source.
As we’ve been discussing, Song Of The Risen God and the rest of The Coven trilogy are all set in the world of Corona, which is also where you’ve set The DemonWars Saga and The Saga Of The First King. What is it about Corona that makes it such a fertile ground for fantasy stories?
When I created Corona 25 years ago, I made it big. Purposely big. This world has been fermenting in my brain for decades, and after a tough breakup with TSR [for whom he wrote dozens of Forgotten Realms novels], Owen Lock of Del Rey called and told me to take as long as I needed to write the best book I could. That gave me the opportunity to create my own Middle-earth, or Forgotten Realms or Westeros or Shannara. I built the world after having written many novels in a shared world, and after many years of gaming in other shared worlds.
I built it to last, to give me breathing room. I knew it would grow and that was okay, because there were more undefined regions than those I had already mapped out. It has everything I want in a fantasy world, particularly the magic system.
Speaking of which, Song Of The Risen God and the rest of The Coven trilogy are fantasy novels. But or are there any other genres or subgenres that are also present in this third book?
Any good fantasy novel has themes that transcend the trappings of the genre. This one involves tradition and the courage to defy it. It’s about right and wrong. With the rise of the xoconai in the west, it’s also about perception — in that manner, I think it a very relevant story to the world today. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys?
I always wonder about these things — ever-present themes in my work. Think of the Mel Gibson movie, The Patriot. I was in a theater full of people cheering every trick played by the “good guys,” but those tactics were asymmetrical warfare, something that’s taken on an entirely different meaning in the USA these days.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Song Of The Risen God but not on Child Of A Mad God or Reckoning Of Fallen Gods? Or, really, anything else you’ve written?
Nothing jumps out for this series specifically, but Umberto Eco’s Name Of The Rose was an important influence in my creation of the Abellican Church in the world. Other than that, I’ve come to see that Fritz Leiber’s work was very influential to me — he writes buddy fantasy, and I love it!
How about non-literary influences; was Song Of The Risen God influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games?
Dormer’s portrayal of Boleyn in The Tudors helped me discover Aoleyn. Eco’s Name of the Rose helped me create the Abellican Church, and Sarah MacLachlan’s “Building A Mystery” set the tone.
As you know, having written trilogies before, some people are going to read all three of the Coven novels back-to-back. Do you think this is the best way to experience this story, or do you think people should take a break in between them?
I don’t think there’s an answer to this. As with pretty much everything, it’s up to the reader. I think you can read Child Of A Mad God and take a breather before going on to Reckoning Of Fallen Gods, but readers will probably want to leap into Song Of The Risen God as soon as possible after reading Reckoning.
Now, some of your fellow authors who’ve written trilogies later expand them with side stories or sequel trilogies. I’m sure you have plans to write more stories in the realm of Corona, but are you thinking any of them will directly connect to the events of the Coven trilogy?
I think I know what I want to do next in Corona, and if I go in that direction, we may see some of the survivors of The Coven making their way in the new reality of the original areas of the world, the ones detailed in the DemonWars Saga. That’s where my thoughts are brewing at the moment, but we’ll see. There’s nothing I’ve started at this point, no contracts in place, or anything like that.
In the previous interview we did about Child Of A Mad God, you said there wasn’t any interest at the time in adapting these books into a movie, TV show, or game, but if it was up to you, it would be a TV show starring Natalie Dormer for obviously reasons. Having finished writing this trilogy, is that still your first choice for an adaptation?
I’d love to see something I’ve done get the TV show treatment, sure, and I think Child Of A Mad God would work beautifully. I don’t know about the casting, though.
Finally, if someone really likes Child Of A Mad God, Reckoning Of Fallen Gods, and Song Of The Risen God, they’ll probably go read the other novels you’ve written about Corona. But once they’re all caught up, which of your non-Corona novels would you suggest they read and why that one?
Homeland to start the Legend Of Drizzt, of course. If someone enjoys the theological underpinnings of DemonWars, I’d recommend the Cleric Quintet. Also, the precursor to DemonWars was The Crimson Shadow Trilogy, which was just rereleased in wonderful new editions.