With The Veiled Masters (paperback, Kindle), author Tim Pratt is once again exploring and expanding the sci-fi space opera universe of the tabletop strategy game Twilight Imperium he previously visited in his novels The Fractured Void and The Necropolis Empire. In the following email interview about Masters, Pratt discusses what influenced this espionage-infused story and how it connects to both the game and his previous Imperium novels.
Given that we’ve already done deep dives on both The Fractured Void and The Necropolis Empire [which you can read here and here, respectfully], let’s jump right in: What is Twilight Imperium: The Veiled Masters, about?
A mildly corrupt Hacan trade ambassador named Terrak is attending a summit where several factions have come together to discuss forming a strategic alliance, to present a unified front against various existential threats that have arisen in the galaxy. While he’s there, he notices an old friend behaving strangely, and when he attempts to investigate the cause, Terrak ends up being framed for that friend’s murder. Before he can disappear into the justice system, a covert operative — Amina Azad, last seen in The Fractured Void — breaks him loose and tells him he’s stumbled upon a vast conspiracy: someone is mind-controlling people, or replacing them with imposters, to manipulate galactic politics for reasons unknown. To clear his name, Terrak has to help Amina find the root of the conspiracy. Espionage action ensues.
And then aside from Amina’s appearance, how is it connected to both the game and your previous Twilight Imperium novels?
Terrak and Amina are pursued by those co-opted by the conspiracy, and various interested authorities, the latter including captain Felix Duval of the Mentak Coalition and captain Severyne Dampierre of the Barony of Letnev (last seen in The Fractured Void and The Necropolis Empire, respectively). Various other characters from the earlier volumes pop up here and there too, but it’s a stand-alone story.
As for its connection to the game, we get to explore a ton of the factions, including some we haven’t seen much of in the earlier books.
In the interview we did about The Fractured Void, you said you presented three ideas for Twilight Imperium to Aconynte, and they liked all three, hence your three T.I. novels. I assume The Veiled Masters was written third…
Yes, I wrote it last.
Okay. So then how, if at all, did what you wrote in Fractured and Necropolis prompt you to change anything of significance in Veiled?
I definitely incorporated more cameos and references to characters from the earlier books than I would have if it had been written alone.
The Fractured Void and The Necropolis Empire were sci-fi space opera stories. Is The Veiled Masters one as well?
It’s space opera, still lots of action and banter, but this one has a lot of spy thriller in its DNA.
Are there any writers, or perhaps stories, that had a big influence on The Veiled Masters but not on anything else you’ve written, especially The Fractured Void and The Necropolis Empire?
Oh, I like spy stuff a lot, from Le Carre to Buchan, Clancy to Ludlum, Ian Tregillis’s Milkwood Triptych, Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series, and Kate Atkinson’s excellent recent novel Transcription.
What about non-literary influences? Was The Veiled Masters influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Aside from Twilight Imperium, of course.
Espionage films, of course. The Third Man, Spy Game, Bond movies, TV shows like Hanna and Alias and La Femme Nikita…. I love stories about moles and secret agents, and that sense of paranoia that comes from never knowing who to trust. That stuff went into this book.
In the previous interview we did about The Necropolis Empire, you said that while it and The Fractured Void shared some characters, both were still stand-alone novels. I assume the same can be said of The Veiled Masters, yes?
Yes, no prior knowledge is required to enjoy this volume. Characters reappear, but you find out everything you need to know about them in this novel.
Given that, what do you think someone will get out of The Veiled Masters if they’ve already read The Fractured Void and The Necropolis Empire?
I think watching Sev’s character evolve across all three books is pretty fun. She’s the only significant character who appears in all three.
In a different vein, since The Veiled Masters is the third book of the three, does that mean it’s the end of this series? Or maybe just for you?
I am done with Twilight Imperium novels, but I don’t know if there are plans to do any more novels, but it’s such a rich world, I suspect more stories will be told in the setting. I’ve had my say and hope to see others explore that world. I’ve got other projects I’m eager to get into, though, including a couple I’ll probably be able to announce before too long.
Speaking of which, last month saw the release of your novel Prison Of Sleep, which is the sequel to Doors Of Sleep. We did a deep dive on that book as well, but for people who aren’t into clicking, what was Doors about?
Doors Of Sleep is about a guy named Zax who travels to a different alternate reality every time he falls asleep, so a lot of the fun comes from the weirdness of seeing world after world after world. In book one, he was pursued across the multiverse by an old friend who betrayed him, and wanted to exploit Zax’s powers for personal gain.
And then for people who don’t want to read the interview about Prison of Sleep, what is that novel about, and how is it connected the Doors Of Sleep?
It’s set immediately after Doors Of Sleep (I set up for a sequel in the last scene of that book). In Prison Of Sleep, Zax finds out why he got flung into the multiverse, discovers he’s not the only person with his condition, and faces off against a terrifying threat not just to himself and his friends, but to the entire structure of reality. The first volume is entirely told via Zax’s journal entries, but in this volume, his chapters alternate with someone else’s, who offers a different perspective. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling things.
You’ve been alternating between the Sleep novels and the Twilight Imperium ones. How do you think this has affected these books? Because they’re very different books, both tonally and subject-wise.
Oh, I always write at least a couple of books a year. I enjoy alternating original books with work-for-hire stuff. With original books I can explore weirder ideas, and with work-for-hire I get to play in fun sandboxes and reach whole new audiences who might not otherwise be aware of my work.
And does it work? Like, have you had people come to your original novels after reading the Twilight Imperium ones?
Based on anecdotal evidence from social media and the occasional email, etc., yeah, it works at least sometimes. I’ll take it.
So, is there anything else about The Veiled Masters you think people should know?
The covers of the three books are by Scott Schomburg, who did the beloved box art for the game. The twist is, the three covers are actually a single painting, broken into a triptych. So, buy all three paperbacks, line them up side-by-side in publication order from left to right, and see the full work of art.
Finally, after reading three sci-fi space opera novels and two sleep-related ones, your fans might be looking for something different to read. What science fiction novel that you read recently and really liked would you suggest people check out?
I always recommend the Murderbot books. Martha Wells just won a Hugo Award for Best Novel for her Murderbot book Network Effect, and won Best Series for Murderbot as a whole. The most recent book is Fugitive Telemetry. They’re all great fun; start with All Systems Red and go from there.