It’s always interesting to see who an author choses to center their stories around.
Take Bradley P. Beaulieu’s new epic fantasy novel, The Dragons Of Deepwood Fen (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), in which one of his two main characters is agoraphobic, while the other is a thief with scruples.
To find out what trouble these two get into, literally, check out the following email interview, in which Beaulieu talks about what inspired and influenced this tale…and the series it’s launching.
Photo Credit: Lawrie Photography
To start, what is The Dragons Of Deepwood Fen about, and what kind of a world is it set in?
The Dragons of Deepwood Fen is the opening book in my new epic fantasy series. While the book is epic, and the cast fairly large, the main protagonists are Lorelei Aurelius and Rylan Holbrooke.
Lorelei is an extremely sharp and intuitive inquisitor in service to the empire. She’s also agoraphobic, which presents some interesting problems for her along the way. Rylan, meanwhile, is the bastard son of the Imperator, the leader of a vassal state known as the Holt. He’s also a thief out to right the scales of injustice in the Holt. Lorelei’s dogged determination and Rylan’s sneaky ways meet in spectacular fashion when they both try to unlock the mystery of why Aarik Bloodhaven, the leader of a group of freedom fighters known as the Red Knives, decides to meet with the Hissing Man, the ruthless head of a religious cult known as the Chosen. The Knives and the Chosen have always been sworn enemies, so why are they suddenly making nice?
The answer, Lorelei and Rylan soon learn, may have dire consequences. As Lorelei digs deeper, Rylan becomes the focus of her investigation, but even as their game of cat and mouse begins in earnest, both see that Lorelei’s home city of Ancris is under threat, and that what they do next will have massive implications on the empire, the Holt, and the world.
In the end, Dragons is a story about the hidden costs of power, both to those who seek it and those it’s used against. I felt like Rylan, a thief from the Holt who led a privileged life, and Lorelei, a smart young woman in a place of power, were the perfect characters to explore those facets of the story. I can’t wait for you to meet them.
Where did you get the idea for The Dragons Of Deepwood Fen?
I love dragon stories. Somewhat ironically, that love is why I avoided writing a book about dragons for so long. There are so…many…books about dragons that it felt daunting to tackle one of my own. I didn’t want the dragons to feel derivative, outlandish, or (worst of all) ho-hum. It took me a long while to find a story I really felt enthusiastic about.
Being a child of the ’80s, and playing tons of Dungeons & Dragons when I was young, I had this embedded notion of dragon types with various powers, dragons that were good or evil, and so on. I did echo that a bit in this book, but I detested the notion that dragons (or people, for that matter) are inherently good or evil. Instead, I wanted man to use them in such a way that they would be labeled as good or evil.
A powerful empire (the empire in Dragons) did just that, declaring their own radiant dragons to be righteous servants of Alra and the umbral dragons used by their enemy wicked pawns of the trickster god. It led to no end of misery. Umbral dragons were hunted, nearly to extinction, and those who bonded with them were killed. The reason was sheer practicality. Umbrals are famously resistant to the crops and fetters the empire used to control their radiant dragons, and if they couldn’t control them, they wanted them gone.
I also rather liked the idea that dragons had special scales, known as lucertae, that grant powers to those who know how to use them. It’s a fun twist on magic, a way for people who have no magical ability to use the powers of the dragons, whether it’s to manipulate shadow, summon lightning, or control fire.
All that helped add fuel to the fire, and gave me things to work with in terms of story wrinkles. The core of the story isn’t about dragons, per se, but they obviously play a major part in the tale and were a core element during the ideation phase.
So, is there a reason the mountain city of Ancris is, well, a mountain city as opposed to a seaside hamlet or some other kind of place?
I suppose the mountains stemmed from the fact that I had this notion of a vast forest (like, Amazon Forest big) that was sentient in a way. The primary trees in that forest (known as citadels) are actually a colony tree, like our own Pando, and they remember the things that happen within them. It’s part of what led to “The Book Of The Holt,” a collection of visions extracted from those trees.
Well, the forest and the great basin it resides in needed something to hem them in, geographically speaking. And I do like mountains. I thought the contrast between high, cold mountains and a warm, humid forest would be fun. (And it has been!)
In The Dragons Of Deepwood Fen, Rylan is a thief, but he’s pretending to be a dragon singer. What’s a dragon singer? Is he like the dog whisperer, but for dragons?
A dragon singer is someone who can (literally) sing to dragons and (more importantly) forge a mental link with them. They’re like highly specialized horse or dog trainers. They’re also part veterinarians, because they’re often called in to help with sick, wounded, or intemperate dragons.
As you said, The Dragons Of Deepwood Fen is an epic fantasy story…
Yeah, epic fantasy for sure. I really do enjoy stories with wide scope, a large cast, and far-reaching implications, à la Tolkien, Jordan, Martin, Sanderson, Abercrombie, and so on.
Now, The Dragons Of Deepwood Fen is not your first book. Are there any writers who had a big influence on Deepwood Fen but not on anything else you’ve written?
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman had a pretty big influence on this story. I devoured The Dragonlance Chronicles and related novels in high school. While I couldn’t accurately tell you the plot any longer, the feel of it, the “being around dragons” and how they might influence war and politics stuck with me.
I think it’s often that, the feel of a book, that we’re trying to recreate as authors, and that’s certainly true here.
You also mentioned that The Dragons Of Deepwood Fen is the first book in a series. Hence the line on the cover: The Book Of The Holt: Part One. What can you tell us about this series?
The Book Of The Holt is the name of the series, but it’s also an actual, physical book in the story. It contains visions recorded by a witch named Rygmora, the dead mother to three of the main characters. That she recorded those visions in the first place was what led to her death, but the book lived on and has had a great influence on things as the story opens.
Its influence doesn’t end there, though. The characters grow eager to know more about Rygmora and how she was able to coax visions from the citadel trees. Lorelei, in particular, is fascinated by it. It will become a gateway to learning the truth about the past, but they’d better hurry, because war is on the horizon.
The series is currently projected as four books. Why four? It just feels that big, but we’ll see how it goes. If it need more (or even less), I’ll adjust. I learned long ago that a story takes what it takes (and no more than that).
Earlier I asked if The Dragons Of Deepwood Fen had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Deepwood, and ultimately the rest of this series, could work as a bunch of movies, or a TV show, or a game?
Game Of Thrones did such a great job proving that a larger epic fantasy could work on the small screen. I’d love to see it in that format more than movies because there’s so much more time to explore character, world, and plot. Fingers crossed.
And if crossing your fingers works, and someone decides to make a TV show based on these novels, who would you want them to cast as Lorelei, Rylan, and the other main characters?
Deborah Ann Woll [Daredevil] would make a great Lorelei. I think she’d be able to portray Lorelei’s quirky, unassuming ways well, but also pour on the assertiveness where it comes to Lorelei’s casework. And [Moon Knight‘s] Oscar Isaac (or a younger clone of him) would make for a great Rylan. He’d breathe a lot of life into our loveable thief, I’d wager.
So, is there anything else people need to know about The Dragons Of Deepwood Fen and / or this series?
I’m halfway through drafting book two at this point, but I’ve written a novella set in the same world and have an idea for a few more. It’s something I enjoy quite a bit, writing smaller stories in the world to explore things I couldn’t in the main tale. I’ll have more news about the first of them in the coming months, so follow me on my socials.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Dragons Of Deepwood Fen, and it’s the first book of yours they’ve read, which of your other novels would you suggest people check out while waiting for The Book Of The Holt: Part Two?
I’d recommend Twelve Kings In Sharakhai, Book 1 of The Song Of The Shattered Sands. Though set in a vast desert instead of a great forest, the series is similar in style and scope. If you like Dragons, you’ll probably enjoy Twelve Kings, too.