In his novella The Armored Saint, writer Myke Cole expertly gave us an epic grimdark fantasy tale. But that was only one part of the story. In the following email interview, Myke discusses The Queen Of Crows (hardcover, Kindle), the second book in his trilogy The Sacred Throne.
For those unfamiliar with this series, what is The Sacred Throne seriesabout, what is The Queen Of Crows about, and aside from being the second book in the trilogy, how does it connect to the first novella, The Armored Saint?
The Queen Of Crows picks up immediately after the events of The Armored Saint.In The Armored Saint, Heloise found the strength to defy the Order and save her village, but now, whether she wants it or not, she is thrust into the role of a religious figurehead and leader of a rebellion. Heloise has proven she has the resolve to spark a movement, but she will find that leading one is another matter entirely.
Where did you get the original idea for The Queen Of Crows and when in the process of writing this series did you come up with it? Did you plot out the whole trilogy and then start writing The Armored Said or did you write The Armored Saint and then figure out what The Queen Of Crows would be about?
Quite the opposite. I only ever planned for The Armored Saint — though it was originally much longer — and only decided to plot the story out further once the book sold as first in a trilogy. But once I got moving on it, the story pretty much wrote itself.
At the end of The Armored Saint, Heloise, and indeed her entire village, are backed into a corner, with only two courses of action open to them: panicked flight or open rebellion. And anyone who knows Heloise at all will have an easy time guessing which decision she’d make.
The Armored Saint was a grimdark fantasy novella. Is The Queen Of Crows as well, or are there other genres at work in this second novella?
It is absolutely as dark as The Armored Saint. The thing I like best about the grimdark movement is that it extrapolates logically from the bleakness of the real world around us. I come to fantasy because I want worlds that aren’t real, but I need those worlds to feel real. And this is 2018. It’s going to be tough for me to feel transported by a fantasy based on a world where life is easy and upbeat.
But I also wanted to explore Heloise’s development as a person. She’s just a kid in The Armored Saint, finding out where her lines are, what she’s willing to risk for. The choices she faces in The Armored Saint are stark and immediate. Leading a movement takes a softer touch, strategic thinking, tough compromises, choices between bad and worse. In The Queen Of Crows, Heloise is forced to grow up awfully quickly, and her initial idealism comes into sharp conflict with the reality of an imperfect world.
“This didn’t work out quite like I’d planned” may not be a subgenre of its own, but it’s a common enough theme in literature that it may as well be.
Are there any writers or specific stories that were an influence on The Queen Of Crows but not on The Armored Saint?
One in particular: Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle. It’s the story of an activist trying to organize abused workers to advocate for their own rights. I was struck by how right the cause seemed, how unimpeachably just. And anyone who knows me knows that I am an unabashed Paladin. I am a Lawful Good Justicar. The good guys have to win. They just have to.
And, of course, in Steinbeck’s book, they don’t. Not really, not in the way my overinflated sense of justice says they should. And that’s because the world isn’t interested in justice, and people are complex, weak, emotional creatures, who often act against their own best interests.
I’m put in mind of a great scene from the amazing western Unforgiven, where Clint Eastwood, who’s ostensibly the “bad guy” of the story, gets the drop on Gene Hackman, ostensibly the good guy. Lying on his back and staring up into Eastwood’s gun-barrel, Hackman’s sense of justice is utterly offended. “I don’t deserve this,” he says. Right before Eastwood pulls the trigger, he gives one of the greatest lines in Hollywood history: “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”
Aside from Unforgiven, are there any other movies, TV shows, or video games that had an influence on The Queen Of Crows?
I’ve already mentioned Warhammer 40K ad nauseum, but it still bears repeating. I also drew heavily on Maurice Boutet de Monvel’s 19th C. paintings of Jeanne D’Arc. Not because of his depictions of the Maid of Orleans as a warrior-saint, but rather the rapturous expressions and reactions of the crowd around her.
I’ve always hated it when people, learning that I fought in Iraq, label me a “hero.” It’s a near-religious appellation, and one that utterly isolates me. It absolves others of having to understand my human complexity. They can just stamp “hero” on me, and move along. In looking at the religious awe on the faces of the subjects of de Monvel’s paintings, I see how Heloise must feel. She is a young woman with desires and fears and uncertainties. But she has also done something — and I won’t give spoilers — that in the faith of her people renders her immediately divine. Heloise’s personhood is suddenly, radically shifted, much as Joan’s was.
And we know how that worked out for her.
The Queen Of Crows is the second book in your Sacred Throne trilogy. Do you know yet when the third book will be out, and is it still going to be called The Killing Light?
It’s definitely going to be called The Killing Light. As I write this, I am in the midst of reworking a second draft that I hope to turn over to my agent this month. After working on his notes, it should make it to my editor at Tor by the end of October, and then there’ll be another round of edits. So, I’m guessing readers will get it in the first half of 2019?
Cool. And is the plan still for this to be a trilogy, or are you thinking you might need a fourth or fifth book to finish the saga?
The plan is definitely for it to be a trilogy. I fully resolve and complete the story arc in these three books. I am very strongly against stringing out stories longer than the narrative arc demands. I’m looking at you The Walking Dead. I also have another series I need to turn my attention to, a duology I’m doing for Angry Robot that centers around a future iteration of the U.S. Coast Guard operating on the moon.
I also have to ask: After The Armored Saint came out, did you ever hear from anyone from the band Armored Saint or their fans?
Ha! The irony is that I actually really like the band — Symbol Of Salvation was one of my top workout albums in college — but it had absolutely nothing to do with the title.
I haven’t heard from anyone from the band or any fans, other than to note the name matchup and to make jokes about it. Man, if I found out that John Bush read my book and liked it, I’d probably spontaneously combust.
What about the people behind the Warhammer 40,000 games and books? Because as we discussed in our previous interview [which you can read here], the cover art makes Heloise look like a Space Marine from Warhammer 40K, and she’s wearing something similar on the cover of The Queen Of Crows?
Not a peep. But I’m sure they’re aware of it. I am a huge fan of their work, talk about it constantly, and have come within spitting distance of writing for them multiple times. But Tommy Arnold’s execution of Heloise on the cover of The Armored Saint was done based on my description of the war-machine she winds up driving.Warhammer 40K hardly has a monopoly on oversized suits of armor.
True. Anyway, in our previous interview, I also asked if there had been any interest in adapting The Armored Saint or the Sacred Throne trilogy into a movie, TV show, or video game, and you said there was not, but that you had plans for a miniatures-based wargame. Has anything come of that?
Sadly, no. At the time, I had a contract with Nocturnal Media to develop a miniatures wargame based on my Shadow Ops universe, and I felt I would be able to leverage that relationship to do one for The Sacred Throne as well. As most of my readers know, the CEO of Nocturnal died suddenly and unexpectedly, and much of the new projects, including mine, were scrapped. I’m certainly open to pitches if any game developers out there want to license the IP, but right now I’ve got too much work on my plate to develop it myself.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Queen Of Crows, and they’ve already read The Armored Saint, which of your other books would you suggest they read while waiting for The Killing Light to come out?
I’d ask them to start with Gemini Cell, the first book in my Reawakening prequel trilogy. I’d want them to read that because it’s one of my best books, and it’s first in terms of the story chronology for my military fantasy books.