With the upcoming release of Fire in the Blood, we sit down with author Erin M. Evans to discuss her Brimstone Angels series.
With the upcoming release of Fire in the Blood, we sit down with author Erin M. Evans to discuss her Brimstone Angels series.
You had to read—if I remember correctly—approximately 893,452 pages of Cormyrean lore to write this book. Where there any interesting tidbits that stood out in your research, and how did you use them in your book?
One inspired the whole book! (More on that later...)
I used the most lore on art, actually. I put a Hall of Gazes in the palace where the current royal family has collected art of their ancestors in one place. You get a little crash course on Cormyrean history—from a portrait of Faerlthann First-King to The Slaying of the Purple Dragon by Azoun II to the two princesses, Alusair and Tanalasta—and from here I drew the paintings that are described on the section breaks, showing the swords of state
My favorite though is this holiday, Chase the King, that I found largely because I was checking on the dates I was using. It so happened that this one scene fell on this holiday, where a condemned prisoner is dressed as Mad King Bolodvar Obarskyr and turned loose to try and survive until sundown, at which point they earn their freedom. It’s bonkers! And from the point of view of Dahl, my Waterdhavian-by-way-of-the Dales Harper, it’s totally barbaric. It’s so medieval and so random and so Cormyr.
Fire in the Blood features Princess Raedra, who ends up being one of my favorite characters. However, she’s introduced as an antagonist to our heroes. How do you introduce a character as antagonistic, and yet keep her likeable?
At the start of the book, I knew that readers would be ready to hate Raedra—she’s “the other woman” in Brin and Havilar’s relationship, and people love Havi. In fact, as soon as the sample chapter went up, I started hearing from people opining how Brin should dump that nasty princess! Traditionally, this is a character role that’s filled by someone who’s there to make the protagonist of the same gender look good, and years of romantic subplots have primed people to hate Raedra.
But Raedra’s done nothing wrong. She and Brin get engaged for political reasons, around six years after Havilar disappears. She’s angry at Brin, and she has every right to be! So you start with a scene that shows her tearing him a new one, and maybe you’re thinking, “What a bitch!” But the next scene is her dealing with the ramifications of the gossip that’s arisen around the three of them, and you see she’s got a point. She’s stern and she doesn’t put up with BS and she’s got an emotional wall around her, three feet thick. But the more you get to know her the more you see that she’s as loyal as anyone in this book and she’s willing to reconsider her previous position.
You break the book into four sections, divided by the swords of state. How did you pick which sword should go with which section?
Each section is almost a mini-story that moves the larger plot along, and each one revolves around the aspects of the four swords: The Blade of Memory, the Font of Honor, the Edge of Justice, and the Wedding Blade.
For example the first section is Symlazarr, the Font of Honor, and the story starts with these characters struggling to play out their roles in the best possible way, while everything starts falling apart. There’s a strong element of holding to your word and keeping your promises, even when everything’s conspiring to break them. It worked out nicely that the story breaks into these different inspirations.
Because so much of what makes Cormyr Cormyrean is this deep history and tradition, it made sense to use the Four Swords as symbols for this, the story of Cormyr surviving the Sundering.
Reading Fire in the Blood feels like reading a Cormyrean legend. What techniques did you use to evoke that epic feeling?
(Thank you!) I didn’t hold back on the story. It’s a big book, and ultimately all the plot arcs have huge, life or death effects for Cormyr, even when they’re focused in on what happens to this person or those. Breaking it into parts, too, helped with that. One long, long narrative can get exhausting. But three building narratives and an epilogue? That feels more like an epic.
Alusair, the Steel Regent, features symbolically in this book, mostly from Raedra’s point of view. What gave you the idea to use Alusair?
Alusair’s court is one of those things readers missed with the Spellplague jump. It’s detailed in the excellent Dragon article, “Cormyr Royale” by Brian Cortijo, though, and it feels like it would loom large. Especially since the Sage of Shadowdale series has shown us that even in death Alusair is still protecting Cormyr.
One thing I found interesting about Alusair in those books is that she seems completely annoyed at the current royal family—what are they doing that’s so irritating? And can they earn her approval? Because earning her approval is kind of earning the approval of fans who miss her in some respects. Earning Alusair’s approval is bringing Cormyr back to its roots.
Prince Baerovus, Raedra’s older sister, is described as being unskilled in social graces, but a brilliant tactician—too different for the crown. He’s also very likeable, despite being different. How did you write him?
Baerovus is one of the characters created by Brian Cortijo for “Cormyr Royale,” so the groundwork was already done. But I felt like the way he’s described there—bookish, not inclined to rule, skilled with a bow, shy—approached Brin’s character a little too close. (Brin doesn’t want to be in line for the throne because he has no interest in ruling and fears what it would mean for Cormyr if he were installed.) But these features put me in mind of someone close to me who’s a little on the spectrum. He really hates social situations that require a lot of understanding of rules and being the center of attention is basically his nightmare. It occurred to me that being groomed to be king would be the perfect storm of horrible for him—and that Baerovus made a lot of sense as someone with Asperger’s. And that as his sister, Raedra would be his staunchest defender.
Two of the recurring themes in Fire in the Blood are finding your place and thinking outside the box. Did writing in Cormyr influence the themes you chose to write about, or was it mostly your characters?
These two things kind of intertwine. Very early on I realized that most of my main characters probably don’t like Cormyr that much. The Waterdhavians think Suzail’s kind of a fusty old relic compared to Waterdeep. The nonhumans feel like a sideshow walking through the streets. Brin’s going slowly crazy playing the games of nobles. Everyone wants to be somewhere else. There’s a way to “fit” in Cormyr, and none of them manage it. But that’s ultimately an illusion, a simplification of the reality. They all grow to respect this place in different ways, largely because they find a new way to interact with it.
The threat of Shar is often depicted as being as much psychological warfare as traditional. Was this intentional?
Absolutely! In The Adversary, it’s not an understatement to say that Shar’s a metaphor for depression. That’s still true in some ways in Fire in the Blood, but now the characters have fought there way out of her clutches so to speak. Now she and Shade are looming on the horizon, something you can’t avoid and you can’t just give into, but fighting it is so hard. The people who are Sharrans in Fire in the Blood masquerade as ordinary folks, but each one we get to see unmasked has clearly fallen to her by giving up on life. That’s scary—and I think that’s Shar’s greatest strength, and why Shade might stick with her despite their goals being out of alignment. She can get to anyone, ultimately, because we all experience loss. She’s the fear of the bad things. Why wouldn’t her agents parlay that into psychological warfare?
What section was the trickiest to get right?
I think handling the scenes in the battlefields were the hardest—you have a lot of people who are in conflict with each other, but who are all aligned to a common purpose, one they can’t achieve alone. Keeping them fighting but fighting together and making it feel like things are progressing even as the landscape and enemies are stopping them constantly was a challenge.
Do you have a favorite part?
Yes, but it’s so late in the book it would spoil things to tell you! It’s hard to choose though—this book was waiting for a long time to be written, so it’s rife with scenes I love. I love the scene in the Hall of Gazes. I love Raedra’s fencing scene. I love Farideh’s uncomfortable foray into a festhall. I love putting Dahl in a Temple of Oghma and Havilar toe-to-toe with a shade. I love it all!
Do you have a favorite secondary character, you’d love to spend more time on?
I wish so much that Vescaras had his own point-of-view in this book. Lord Vescaras Ammakyl is a half-elf Harper and Waterdhavian noble. In a lot of ways he’s a foil for Dahl—he’s extremely competent, too, and they end up in a sort of weird Harpering competition, but they’re kind of prickly friends. So through the book Vescaras is off doing things for the Harpers and for his own family business and such. You get these little glimpses into this kind of James Bond-ish story that I couldn’t tell.
Plus, he’s got such an interesting viewpoint—his human half is largely Turami and in one of the early scenes he’s mistaken for a half-drow (possibly full drow). So he’s rich, he’s noble, he’s connected, and yet people in Cormyr think he’s something alien.
What inspired Fire in the Blood?
Fire in the Blood was inspired by something that happens late in the book, so I can’t go into it too much. Sorry! I’ve been planning to go to Cormyr, to go through Brin’s character arc, for several books now, but various story arcs kept interrupting that movement, so by now, all those conflicts felt like they had to be amplified by the intervening years. During the Sundering planning discussions, I asked if I could do something, and during the discussion about whether or not it was a good idea, I realized I could tie it into what was then the story arc plan. Then I looked into the lore and realized that Cormyr has a lot of really crazy laws that blow this up into something kind of next level, and create an ending that gave me the chills.
One of the things I noticed is that every single viewpoint character has a complete arc and story of their own! And they all weave together into the main plot of the story. How do you go about plotting all that out?
This is something I learned from Nina Hess, who edited Brimstone Angels, Lesser Evils, and The Adversary. She told me in Brimstone Angels that if a character has a POV they should have an arc. I know not every book does that, and I know I kicked and fought at the time, but it made a great deal of sense and I think it’s made all the stories stronger (even if I cheat occasionally). To plot it out, I tag all the scenes with their viewpoint characters in order to keep track. I sometimes make big flow charts with each character’s path in a different color of post-it notes. And I write myself long notes about what the heck is going on and where I’m missing pieces regularly.
Almost all the characters featured in this book are torn between two worlds—Farideh is torn between devils (Lorcan) and humans (Dahl), as is Lorcan. Havilar and Brin are torn between his noble family and her mercenary one. Mehen is torn between dragonborn and his adopted tiefling daughters. And Dahl is torn between his past as a fallen paladin and his present as a Harper. Is this intentional?
I love a good theme. I find that once I start writing, these common threads uncover themselves. It’s almost as if I’m doing it subconsciously, and until it builds up to a noticeable point, I have no idea it’s there. Fire in the Blood took the longest to come clear of all the Brimstone Angels books, I think simply because there’s so many big events happening in the plot.
For a moment there, I was pretty sure Lorcan was going to form an alliance with another character in the Hells—it seems the partnership would have been really useful for him. Did he turn it down because he knew partnering with other devils would draw him further into their world, and farther from Farideh?
This is one of those cases where the character acts the way they act because that’s how they would act. Lorcan was, I think, prepared for either option equally and chose neither until he was forced to—which is a pretty Lorcan-ish decision. He likes his options. I don’t think he’s self-aware enough to realize he’s made Farideh a priority beyond the most obvious reasons, but I don’t think anyone watching him act could agree.
Fire in the Blood is the fourth book in the series. Do readers need to start with Brimstone Angels, or can they dive right in with Fire in the Blood?
You should start with Brimstone Angels (and Lesser Evils) or at least with The Adversary. I try with each book to keep things accessible for new readers, but honestly by this, the fourth book in the series, it’s getting difficult. They’re quick reads. I promise.
That said, the bulk of the story is independent to the book. So if you just want to read about Cormyr during the Sundering and you can work with the information left to catch up people who read The Adversary a year ago, then you’ll be okay.
How do you balance writing for new readers and writing for established Brimstone Angels fans?
Generally, I try and keep two stories in mind—what’s the series arc and what’s this book’s arc. The books definitely have an episodic quality—what threat is intruding on our lives now? But the threats and events knit into the larger story of this family of misfits and the god of transgression. Making sure both are interesting is critical. Also, often people go a year between reading these books—you have to catch people up on the important facts. Which means deciding what’s important and what can be left to the previous books. As a side effect, that helps keep new readers from being overwhelmed.
Farideh’s a Chosen of the god of sin—and her Chosen powers have sharpened since The Adversary. What gave you the idea to have her powers develop the way they do?
Asmodeus is the god of sin, but he’s still the king of the Nine Hells. The power he can gain from souls has increased—the worship of living souls is valuable, as is the raw material of the souls of the dead. But he needs that power even more. The Nine Hells runs on it, more or less, and his godhood depends on it. So it made sense to me that Farideh’s powers would be about sensing how much power Asmodeus can get from a person’s soul—living or dead. To start with it was only about whether another god had “dibs.” Then she started noticing corruption. But the longer you look for that, the more you’d see patterns. The more you’d get a sense of what it would take to corrupt someone.
Was Farideh destined to become a warlock by her bloodline? Would she—or could she—cut her ties to the Hells and become a wizard?
Well, that’s the question of the entire character, isn’t it? How much is she trapped by what she is, how much can she make a difference in that because of who she is? So I guess the answer is, read the books!
Erin M. Evans grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. After graduating from Washington University with a degree in Anthropology, she and her now-husband drove around the country in a 1983 Winnebago. They settled in Seattle, WA where she works as a writer and editor.
Fire in the Blood releases October 14th, 2014.