With Upon The Flight Of The Queen (hardcover, Kindle), writer Howard Andrew Jones is continuing the Ring-Sworn Trilogy of mysterious fantasy tales he began earlier this year with For The Killing Of Kings. In the following email interview, he discusses what inspired and influenced this middle chapter, as well as his plans for ending this saga.
For people who didn’t read For The Killing Of Kings, what is the Ring-Sworn Trilogy about, and what kind of a world is it set in?
I like to tell people that it’s like a cross between [Alexander Dumas’] The Three Musketeers and [Roger Zelazny’s] The Chronicles Of Amber. That means that there’s lots of swashbuckling adventure and witty camaraderie, and there’s weird worldbuilding and layers within layers of secrets for the characters to uncover.
I should probably add that the primary protagonist is a young woman, and that there are any number of strong female characters throughout the narrative. I wish that such features were so commonplace I didn’t need to bother pointing them out.
More specifically, the series features members of an elite corps of warriors, the Altenerai, who stumble into a conspiracy. In the first book, one of those warriors and a squire are framed for a murder and venture into the wilds, pursued by their own comrades. What they, and others, uncover, is a mystery that leads all the way to their secretive queen and her researches into the nature of magic and reality itself. That alone would be enough of a problem, but an ancient enemy has waited on the sidelines for years and, sensing weakness, chooses this moment for an invasion.
The world consists of a scattered lands about the size of New England states, each separated by areas of less permanency, The Shifting Lands. Getting from realm to realm, or the smaller shards and fragments, can be hazardous, especially when a storm whips up and begins to alter the landscape while you’re travelling.
Anyone who wants to get a visual look at the books should check out the animated trailer my son created for me here.
And then aside from being the second book, what is Upon The Flight Of The Queen about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the first book, For The Killing Of Kings?
Paul, going into detail is tricky, because there are so many secrets revealed in the first book it’s easy to give them away while discussing the second. Let me say that apart from a brief flashback prologue that book two picks up mere moments after book one concludes, right in the middle of the invasion. The secondary protagonist, Rylin, and his brilliant mentor Varama, are trapped in a doomed city and have to find a way to survive. Elenai, the primary protagonist, is dispatched with some other Altenerai to try to locate their old allies, the winged ko’aye — sort of giant bird-like lizards — to counteract the enemy dragons. The problem there is that they need them, fast, and that the ko’aye may not be very happy to see any Altenerai. The queen allied with the ko’aye to help keep their shared enemies away, then broke the treaty and abandoned them to their fate, refusing to aid them with the ko’aye were overrun. You’d think I tore that part out of some tragic recent headlines, but that’s been a plot point for a couple of years now.
When in the process of writing this trilogy did you come up with the idea for Upon The Flight Of The Queen, and did writing For The Killing Of Kings prompt you to change anything of major consequence about this second installment?
I already had major sections of this book written as I was revising For The Killing Of Kings. The Alten Rylin Corimel finally comes into his own in the opening sections of this novel, and as I was fine-tuning book one I kept working into book two because I wanted to make sure I had a handle on his growth from a selfish skirt-chaser with potential into a true hero. Other scenes were also written, including some of the big reveals and the conclusion.
I think the biggest change forced by final alterations to book one was having to cut a character I introduced in book one who ended up dying, a fellow I quite liked. The biggest change during the drafting of book two was the discovery that I needed some additional viewpoint characters. I had always anticipated one of them, and getting to know him was entertaining. The others were more of a surprise.
For The Killing Of Kings was a fantasy tale, but with a bit of a mystery. Is Upon The Flight Of The Queen one as well?
Oh yes, there are still mysteries to unravel, and motives to discover. I’m a big consumer of mystery novels, and while I am a Sherlock Holmes fan, I don’t mean the drawing room whodunnit kind, but the hardboiled detective kind. You won’t find any of my heroes prowling the mean streets in trench coats, but they do seek out the truth and talk to different people and continually find new pieces of their puzzles.
I’m a big reader of historical fiction, and ancient history, and, more recently, westerns. I’m not sure that the latter is obvious as an influence except where it has impacted my portrayal of the use of horses and some of the outdoor techniques used by my protagonists. (Such depictions are likewise aided by the fact that I own and care for horses.)
Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Upon The Flight Of The Queen but not on For The Killing Of Kings? Or, for that matter, any of your other novels?
I think this particular series wears its love for Zelazny’s Amber series on its sleeve in a big way, from some of the superhuman like characters to the world building and, hopefully, to the reveal of deeper and deeper secrets about how everything really works. I don’t think that there are any influences on the second novel in the series that are different from the first.
My two Arabian historical fantasies [The Desert Of Souls and The Waters Of Eternity] and the connected short stories are all flavored by the Arabian nights and the historical fiction of Harold Lamb, and my four Pathfinder novels are informed by a love of pulp historicals and fantasy, not to mention by gaming in general, although I tried to avoid more obvious RPG tropes, especially in the last two books, which are set down in the tropics far from the familiar mountain dwarves and woodland elves and the like.
What about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a big influence on either what you wrote in Upon The Flight Of The Queen or how you wrote it?
Yes, two movies from the ’70s had an indelible imprint upon me, and those were The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers. I’m sure they inform everything I do, to some extent. The Four Musketeers may well have been the first movie I ever saw in a theater; it’s certainly one of my earliest memories of going to the cinema. The incredible action, the wise-cracking heroes, their joie de vivre and code of honor, it all stuck with me, and you can definitely see that resonance in moments of this series.
I was likewise deeply impacted by the humanity and courage of the original Star Trek series, which was on endless rerun when I was growing up in the ’70s. I don’t think that there are any obvious riffs on Trek in this particular work, although if you’re a real fan you might catch an almost word-for-word Spock quote hidden deep in this book.
So you know yet when the third and final book in this series will be out, and what it will be called?
I’m deep in the drafting process, and I fully expect that the finished book will be released no later than this time of year in 2020. My working title is When The Goddess Wakes, but I’ve yet to run that past my editor and agent, so it’s hardly set in stone.
In the previous interview we did about For The Killing Of Kings [which you can read here], you mentioned that the third book may not be the end of this saga, as you had, “the germ of an idea for a sequel series and a more fleshed-out idea for a series set hundreds of years earlier.” Have those ideas evolved at all since then?
Yes. Let me make perfectly clear that everything in this series will resolve by the third book. All the plot threads will be wrapped up. As I continue work on book three, the possibility of a sequel series seems more and more remote to me, for reasons I can’t really disclose for fear of revealing plot points. A prequel series, set hundreds of years earlier and detailing the founding of the warrior corps and their kick butt warrior queen is still a possibility, but I’ve been spending more time making notes for several unrelated series.
We also talked in that previous interview about how there was not, at the time, anything in regards to adapting the Ring-Sworn Trilogy into a movie, TV show, or video game. Is that still the case?
I’d say that my fingers are crossed, except that I’m so busy typing and thinking about this story and those that will follow I don’t really think about media adaptions. It’s so far out of my hands it’s kind of like watching the skies for a lightning strike. It’s only been a few months, and a lot of times outside media gets more interested once a series is complete. If you know anyone, send them my way.
Finally, if someone enjoys For The Killing Of Kings and Upon The Flight Of The Queen, what similar fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for When The Goddess Wakes, or whatever it ends up being called, to come out?
I hear from friends that the works of Robert Reddick and Sebastien de Castell deal with some similar themes, and they’re on my to-read list. My friend Ian Tregillis’ trilogy, starting with The Mechanical, deals with heroes and secrets, and I swear that there are some similar though process involved, although the parallels might not be incredibly obvious, since his main character’s a steam punk robot from an alternate history. Then there’s E.E. Knight’s newest work, Novice Dragoneer, which has an elite corps of heroes that happen to fly dragons accomplishing amazing deeds.