Exclusive Interview: “The Warden” Author Daniel M. Ford
In novels where a crime is committed in a fantasy realm, the person investigating said crime is often a magic user with a bit of noir to their name. And while that’s also the case with Daniel M. Ford’s adventure fantasy novel The Warden (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), he’s taking a somewhat different approach by having said magic user not be a witch or wizard but a necromancer, and not be very noir, either. In the following email interview, Ford discusses what influenced and inspired this magical mystery.
Photo Credit: Carroll McDorman
To begin, what is The Warden about, and what kind of world is it set in?
The Warden is about a young Necromancer named Aelis de Lenti coming to terms with her power and her responsibility. She’s fresh out of the Lyceum (wizard university) serving as warden — a kind of law enforcement position — at a tiny village for the next two years. She would so much rather be in a city.
The world is in many ways fairly typically late medieval fantasy world. I’d call it a high magic setting, and politically it’s got new structures emerging while recovering from territorial wars.
Where did you get the idea for The Warden?
I knew I wanted to do something with a wizard as a kind of investigator, and it occurred to me that Necromancy would be particularly suited to this purpose in some ways. I wanted to see if I could meld fantasy with my second favorite genre, the detective / private investigator novel.
My understanding is that Aelis is unique in being a female necromancer….
She is not unique, but it is uncommon, and mentioned more than once that Aelis felt pressured because in the origins of the College of Necromancy, it was a male-exclusive field. She believes that her natural talent for it led one of her teachers, Archmagister Ressus Duvhalin, to see to it that she be posted as far away from “civilization” as a kind of petty revenge.
As far as why the protagonist of this book is a woman as opposed to a man, she just sort of came to me. I think part of it was wanting to find out if I could write a woman protagonist, to stretch myself as a writer that way.
It sounds like The Warden is an epic fantasy story. Is that how you think of it?
I would think that The Warden is more adventure fantasy than epic fantasy. The dangers Aelis is dealing with in this book have definite stakes for the villagers of Lone Pine, who she is directly responsible for. But she isn’t caught up in world-changing prophecies (though she could, at times, be on the verge of some diplomatic incidents).
Stories with investigators are also sometimes noir. Is The Warden noir at all?
I wouldn’t say it’s noir, no. Aelis is not cynical, she doesn’t really exist in a gray area; her job as warden is to take care of the best interests of the people under her protection. Whether that’s flexing her power as a Necromancer or Abjurer against magical threats, or using her abilities as an anatomist and surgeon.
The Warden is not your first novel; you previously wrote The Paladin Trilogy and the two books of The Jack Dixon series. Are there any writers, or stories, that you think had a big influence on The Warden but not on anything else you’ve written?
I don’t think I can separate my influences by series that way. I will say that The Jack Dixon novels, being about a private investigator, are maybe closer in influence to The Warden than the seemingly-similar fantasy The Paladin Trilogy. I actually wrote the first two books of The Warden before I wrote Jack Dixon; they just took longer to find a home.
You also write poetry, which suggests that you read it as well. How do you think writing and reading poetry may have influenced how you wrote The Warden?
I think largely my experience with reading and writing poetry mostly comes out in how things sound in my book. I think a great deal about how character names and dialogue sound. I don’t put a great deal of actual poetry into my novels…my brain seems to work on entirely separate tracks and I don’t know how to make them meet. I wish I did.
And then what about non-literary influences; was The Warden influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I think that The Warden will not feel unfamiliar to anyone who has played any mainstream fantasy RPGs like Dungeons And Dragons. You have dwarves and orcs and elves and gnomes, lots of familiar (but not entirely similar) magic. I’ve been playing D&D and other RPGs for almost thirty years now; it’s bound to be caught up in my fantasy imagination.
Speaking of non-literary influences, your publisher has been promoting The Warden with the line, “For fans who have always wanted their Twin Peaks to have some wizards…” Just how Twin Peaks-y is The Warden?
I am really not in a position to say, as I have never actually watched Twin Peaks and don’t know much about it! I think “newcomer arrives in small, isolated town, begins to encounter magical weirdness brought about by old evil” could broadly be a plot description of both.
You mentioned earlier that you’d written two books of The Warden before you wrote The Jack Dixon duology, and we mentioned The Paladin Trilogy as well. So, obviously, The Warden is beginning of a new series…yes?
The Warden is definitely part of a series. A trilogy. I knew once I had my protagonist figured out that she could have many different kinds of adventures and face lots of different adversaries, hopefully without growing stale. And since she’s fairly young at the start of the series (she’s 22 or thereabouts) she has a lot of room to grow, change, and experience the world. There’s no way to fit everything I want her to do and learn into one book.
The Warden is book one of The Warden Series. Right now, there are three books in the works. I’d love to write more some day. It’s called The Warden Series because it will always focus directly on Aelis de Lenti’s adventures as a warden, a role she intends to keep for a long time.
Do you know what the other books will be called or when they’ll be out?
I don’t think I can answer “when they’ll be out.” The title of book 2 is Necrobane. The title of book 3 is unannounced and I cannot disclose it because it might change.
Earlier I asked if The Warden had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip the script, like you kids don’t say anymore, do you think The Warden could work as a movie, show, or game?
While I love RPGs, board games, and card games and have played them all my life, I think The Warden would make a great TV series. It has a certain episodic quality in some ways, and it also spends some time getting to know a place and the people that inhabit it. A TV show might even be able to explore episodes where Aelis wasn’t central to the plot of that particular hour. I’d be really excited about the possibilities.
So if someone wanted to adapt The Warden into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Aelis and the other main characters, and why them?
Fancasting my own novels is one of my favorite daydreams, and when I really enjoy an actor in something I start thinking about who they could play in The Warden.
For Aelis de Lenti: Ruby Cruz. I recently watched her in Willow on Disney+ and my wife and I were constantly noting how much like Aelis her character already was. She had the right kind of confidence and attitude.
For Tun: Chaske Spencer. A really fantastic actor I’ve seen in a lot of things, but most recently in the revisionist western series The English. He had an incredible presence and laconic eloquence that would fit Tun perfectly. Bringing Tun to screen would require a lot of visual special effects, whether practical or digital, but I think his presence would come through no matter how that was done.
For Maurenia: Katie McGrath [Supergirl]. She radiates confidence, self-awareness, and equipoise, all things I associate with Maurenia. She would be great.
For Timmuk Dobrusz: Tom Hardy [Venom]. If I’m just daydreaming then I might as well daydream big. He could run the gamut of Timmuk’s character, from “friendly, gregarious dwarf adventurer” to “mercenary ready to cut throats” really well, and I think it’d be fun to see him do fantasy.
For Rus: [The Last Of Us‘] Nick Offerman. Quiet but wise, knows more than he says aloud, a lot of life experience, capable of taking care of himself and others; to me, that describes just about every Nick Offerman character I’ve seen.
For Martin: Tim Blake Nelson [Watchmen]. The right kind of vulnerability while also being able to come across as competent in the right situation.
For Otto: [Deadwood‘s] W. Earl Brown. One of my favorite actors going, I think he’d be very believable as a veteran struggling but doing his best to raise his niece with an unreliable brother.
For Elmo: Timothy Olyphant. Sure, it’s a part that’s probably too small for an actor of his stature, but he has the right kind of nervous energy for the role. Also, Olyphant and Brown together have been in some of my favorite shows of all time — Deadwood and The Mandalorian — and it’d be fun to reunite them once again.
And for Dalius: Christopher Lloyd [Back To The Future]. I think he’d be great as a harmless old crank of a hedge wizard.
And would you want David Lynch to direct it?
I think David Lynch is brilliant, but I’m not sure he’d be the right director for The Warden. I don’t see it fitting his visual and storytelling style.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Warden?
What I most want this novel to be is fun to read. It’s serious and has the appropriate tone at times, but it’s funny and full of life and runs the gamut from “cozy homemaking fantasy” to “magical combat where losing means death.” I would also like to say, this is not a story about someone finding her power or her confidence; she has plenty of both. She has to learn just exactly how to wield both her power and her confidence.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Warden, what fantasy series of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for Necrobane to come out?
I would have to say Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. If you enjoy “young woman with power and confidence learning how to use them both,” which is how I just described The Warden, you’d love them. And you can never, ever go wrong by reading Sir Terry Pratchett.