Since launching in 1995 as a collectible card game, the Legend Of The Five Rings has not only expanded into a table-top role-playing game and a board game, but it’s also spawned more than a dozen novels, including three new ones since Final Flight Games bought the series six years ago. In the following email interview, writer Marie Brennan discusses her contribution, The Night Parade Of 100 Demons (paperback, Kindle).
Photo Credit: Perry Reichanadter
Let’s start with a plot overview: What is The Night Parade Of 100 Demons about, and what kind of world is it set in?
There have been spiritual disturbances in the remote mining village of Seibo Mura; the two protagonists, Ryōtora and Sekken, are there to find the cause (and hopefully put a stop to it.) As those names suggest, the setting is based heavily on historical Japan, with magic and many elements drawn from folklore.
The Night Parade Of 100 Demons sounds like it’s an epic fantasy tale. Is that how you’d describe it?
I’ve been calling it a supernatural investigation adventure with a side plot of romance — which I fear makes it sound like I chucked everything plus the kitchen sink in there, but I swear it doesn’t read like that.
It’s ultimately got stakes I’d say are in the epic fantasy vein, but that label would probably lead readers to expect a much more sweeping tale than they’d get. The vast majority of the book takes place in that one village, with quite a small cast of characters, and it’s a slow burn as the protagonists piece together the clues of what’s been happening and why. I do get some action in there by the end (and I love writing action), but structurally, it’s more of an investigation than a grand battle for the fate of the world.
And how familiar with Legend Of The Five Rings were you before you signed on to write The Night Parade Of 100 Demons?
I’ve been a fan of the game for years, starting with a campaign I played in that a friend was running and continuing through to one I ran. I got my start writing for Legend Of The Five Rings during the fourth edition of the tabletop game, when it was still owned by the Alderac Entertainment Group; when the property got sold to Fantasy Flight Games, they rebooted the storyline of fictions that accompany the game, and I leapt at the opportunity to start writing some of those.
But it’s odd because I came in at fourth edition, well after the game began. So I’m deeply familiar with the lore of the setting— the customs and conflicts, the different locations and why they’re relevant, that kind of thing — but I honestly don’t know the old story very well, except in its broad outlines. I didn’t need to know that when I was writing for the RPG, and when FFG decided to reboot the narrative, I decided it was better for me not to get bogged down in knowledge of the old canon. Which works out really well for projects like The Night Parade Of 100 Demons, because this is very much its own story taking place in a shared setting, not a spinoff of a specific plot from the game.
So, who came up with the story for The Night Parade Of 100 Demons?
Oh, it was all my own pitch. For the short fiction we freelancers write for the game storyline, we do get general premises handed to us — I can’t remember who it was that compared it to a cooking show where you’re given some ingredients, and then it’s up to you to turn those into an edible dish of your own design. I don’t know if anybody has the same setup with Aconyte, the publisher of these novels, but their approach to me was just, “would you like to write a book for us?” To which my answer was “yes, and here is my idea!”
The Night Parade Of 100 Demons is the third novel to be inspired by Legend Of The Five Rings that Acontye Books have put out in the last couple months. How does your novel connect to those previous two stories, Curse Of Honor by David Annandale and Josh Reynold’s Poison River?
I believe all the novels are required to take place generally but not specifically in the “present day” of the setting — which is relevant because Rokugan, the setting of Legend Of The Five Rings undergoes a number of changes throughout its history. But they’re meant to stand independently of each other, so there’s no overlap of characters or events between the novels. We’re all working off in our own corners. (And that makes it very different from the game storyline, where multiple writers might wind up using the same characters or passing plotlines between each other.)
While The Night Parade Of 100 Demons is the third Legend Of The Five Rings novel that Aconyte is putting out, it’s actually the fifteenth Five Rings novel; there were seven released in 2000 and 2001 as part of the Clan Warseries, and another five in 2002 and 2003 in The Four Winds Saga. Did you have to consider any of those stories when writing The Night Parade Of 100 Demons or are they not considered canon, or not the same canon as the Aconyte books?
Heh, “canon” has become something of a complicated idea with the reboot. AEG’s tenure on the game built up a huge body of material, and while anything that has to do with individuals or events from after the starting point of the narrative can be considered non-canonical unless we explicitly reincorporate it, a lot of it is detail about the world and its history that might or might not be true in the reboot. The general stance on that has been “you can treat it as canonical until and unless it gets contradicted by new material.”
Fortunately, the Clan War and Four Winds novels all fall into the category of “stuff after the starting point.” So everything in them, at least concerning characters and events, is non-canonical from the standpoint of the new game storyline. And while that storyline is establishing its own take on the Clan War idea, the Aconyte novels are supposed to be independent of that plot — which is why I said “generally but not specifically” up above. It’s the present day, but the Emperor hasn’t been murdered, the Shadowlands aren’t invading, etc. You can imagine these books all take place a month or so before the game storyline starts, if you like.
Were you able to consult with the original creators of Legend Of The Five Rings: John Zinser, Dave Seay, Dave Williams, and John Wick?
I honestly couldn’t have named most of those guys. They ceased to have anything to do with Legend Of The Five Rings long before I came on board, and that was before the property got sold to FFG. The game has evolved a lot from their original design, too — and to be frank, I’m glad it has. Fantasy Flight has done some good work in toning down the more problematic kinds of exoticism Legend Of The Five Rings had early on, and also improving things like the game’s use of the Japanese language (which was nothing short of painful butchery in its original form). So I’m certainly grateful to them for creating this thing I’ve come to love, but I don’t feel a need to consult with them on something that has grown a lot since they left it.
So in terms of the novel itself, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Night Parade Of 100 Demons but not on anything else you’ve written?
The single biggest influence is the folklore around yōkai, which is a broad term for many kinds of Japanese supernatural creature. I’m hugely indebted to Matthew Meyer, who runs the website yokai.com, and has published a series of books about them; those formed the backbone of my research for that aspect of the novel. I read some other titles as well, but Meyer’s books are an invaluable resource for someone like me, whose Japanese fluency does not extend to being able to read academic nonfiction on this topic (or any other, really).
How about such non-literary influences; was The Night Parade Of 100 Demons influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Aside from Legend Of The Five Rings, of course.
Oh, sheesh — how long are these interview answers supposed to be, again? I’ve been absorbing Japanese media for decades at this point, starting with anime like Rurouni Kenshin and continuing on through stuff like the amazingly over-the-top filmed stage production Seven Souls In Skull Castle, which my friends and I were mapping to Legend Of The Five Rings even as we watched it. Novels, short stories, manga, movies and TV both animated and live-action, video games, card games (I taught myself to play koi-koi)…even the “soundtrack” I made for the novel is more than half songs from Japanese composers. I wouldn’t say any one piece of that directly fed the novel, but I’ve been marinating in the flavor for a long time.
Now, along with The Night Parade Of 100 Demons, you also recently put out The Mask Of Mirrors, which you co-wrote with Alyc Helms under the nom de plume M.A. Carrick. What is that story about, and what kind of world is it set in?
That one is definitely an epic fantasy, and not just in terms of page count — Night Parade is about 40% the length of The Mask Of Mirrors! It’s the intrigue-laden tale of a con artist who sets out to infiltrate a noble family so she can live off their wealth. Her obstacles include not only that family’s suspicions, but the guard captain they hire to investigate her, an all-too-savvy crime lord turned “respectable” businessman, a vigilante whose mission is to oppose nobles like the one she’s pretending to be, and an outbreak of nightmarish magic that threatens to consume her city.
The Mask Of Mirrors is the first book in your Rook & Rose trilogy. What was it about this story that made you think it needed to be told in three parts as opposed to two or 37 or just one big book?
There are a lot of answers to that, one of which admittedly is that fantasy readers are accustomed to trilogies. But this is actually the first time I’ve committed trilogy in my career, so we didn’t pick that just by default. One of the forms of magic in that setting revolves around numerology and sacred geometry, and the number three is woven into a bunch of different aspects of the story, so it felt very fitting to structure the narrative in three parts.
There’s also a short story as part of that series, “As Tight As Any Knot.” Is that included in The Mask Of Mirrors?
It isn’t contained in the book, no. I wrote it after we’d finished drafting the novel, and we timed the release of the story to work as promotion. It stands on its own, but it also gives you a direct look at something which only gets mentioned in the novel — how our protagonist Ren wound up in a life of crime.
Going back to The Night Parade Of 100 Demons and Legend Of The Five Rings, has there been any talk of incorporating aspects from your novel into the game?
I don’t actually know if Aconyte and Fantasy Flight Games have any arrangement about bringing elements from the novels into either form of the game — things like making playable cards for Ryōtora and Sekken, or mentioning a worldbuilding element I added to the setting in some future RPG sourcebook. But anybody who plays the RPG could certainly make use of the material here if they wanted to; in fact, one of the FFG people mentioned on Twitter that Night Parade could make a good premise for an adventure in someone’s campaign.
On the flipside, do you think someone who’s read your other books, and liked them, could enjoy The Night Parade Of 100 Demons even if they’re unfamiliar with The Night Parade Of 100 Demons?
Definitely — and that’s part of why my answer to the questions above about “did you coordinate with XYZ or read up on the following canon” is “no.” Aconyte wants these books to be accessible to new readers; it’s no good if you feel like you have to go do homework before you’ll be able to understand this novel. You’ll get the sense that this is taking place in a larger setting than is strictly necessary for the story I’m telling…but I like trying to create that sense in my fiction anyway, because I think it makes the world of the story feel more real. Anybody who’s familiar with my other work will find this has my usual fingerprints all over it: two protagonists, one a nerd, one self-controlled; an interest in language and folklore; a world that feels lived-in; a slow buildup of clues with an explosion of action toward the end, and so forth.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Night Parade Of 100 Demons, which of your other novels would you suggest they check out next?
My usual answer to that is, it depends on what they’re looking for. I don’t have any other novels that involve a setting based on Japan (though I did write a Legend Of The Five Rings novella for FFG, The Eternal Knot). If the protagonist you attached to most was Sekken, you’ll find a fellow nerd at the center of The Memoirs Of Lady Trent series, starting with A Natural History Of Dragons — that’s my most well-known series, about a woman studying dragons in a Victorian-like world. If you want folklore and history, the Onyx Court series involves a hidden faerie court manipulating English politics during eras ranging from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries; that one starts with Midnight Never Come. If you want more of an investigation adventure, my first series is the Doppelganger duology, Warrior and Witch. Or you can pick up The Mask Of Mirrors, which I genuinely think is one of the strongest things I’ve written, even if I can only take credit for half of it; because it’s a collaboration, Alyc and I were constantly pushing each other to do our absolute best and then some.