Last wednesday marked the release of Dave Gross's new Pathfinder Tales novel, Queen of Thorns! Starring his trademark characters Radovan and Jeggare, Queen of Thorns takes the half-elven Pathfinder and his hellspawn bodyguard deep into the isolated forest kingdom of Kyonin, where long-lived elves spin political webs longer than human lifespans and demons struggle to expand their foothold in the mortal realm. We took a few moments to ask Dave questions about his newest novel and the writing process.
What inspired Queen of Thorns? Radovan and Jeggare have obviously been around for several years now, but how did you come up with the other characters and plot for this particular novel?
In all the R&J novels, I first think of what aristocratic characters Jeggare can meet, and then what low-lifes Radovan can rub elbows with—not that it’s a good idea to rub elbows with Radovan. So the first character I knew I wanted to include was Queen Telandia.
After that, I wanted to show that elves aren’t all the same, so I chose one who represented the goddess Calistria (Kemeili), another who is the epitome of a ranger (Caladrel), and a third who was an outcast among her own people because she grew up among humans (Oparal). Then, because gnomes are a small but important element of Kyonin’s population, I included Fimbulthicket.
After thinking of the types of elves and gnome I wanted, I considered what each of them might want under the circumstances that I imagined Kyonin faced. That’s how the plot began to take root.
I knew from the start that I wanted this to be a quest for the truth behind Jeggare’s enigmatic past. I’ve dropped some hints about both his mother and father, but he grew up among her people, and the elves remained largely a mystery to him.
At the same time, I want to make each novel equally about Radovan, and since Kyonin is infested with demons, I knew it was time to make a great big revelation about Radovan’s true nature. Thus, both characters ultimately face themselves before the end of the book.
What part of Queen of Thorns was the most fun to write? What was the hardest?
Pretty much any of the nude scenes was huge fun, because I find nudity not only sexy but also hilarious, especially when Radovan is the one who’s naked. But really any of the humorous exchanges, the quarrels, the misunderstandings are all great fun to write. I can’t say that the novel is a comedy, but there’s certainly plenty of humor in it, and that’s some of the easiest and most fun material to write.
While I enjoy writing action scenes, I’ve written so damned many of the things that sometimes I just stare helplessly at the blank Word screen in hopes that my forehead will begin to bleed and I can come up with something different from all the fight scenes I’ve written before. Sometimes that’s just not possible, but I can tilt the action slightly so it seems fresh even though I’ve done similar fights in past. I need to make it fresh for me or else I can’t imagine it’ll seem fresh to other readers.
Other than Radovan and Jeggare, which character in this book is your favorite?
This is extremely difficult to answer because each of the major supporting characters was my favorite at one time or another. Kemeili was an early favorite because of her sass and volatility. Caladrel grew on me a lot more than I’d initially expected, because he’s such a "bro" compared with the odd-couple of Radovan and the count. Fimbulthicket always delighted me because of his unusual condition and because of his connection to the Green as a druid. In the end, I think Oparal is the character I grew most fond of, both because her struggle is often the hardest on her and because even when she’s wrong, she’s right—which makes more sense after you read what she goes through.
Complete this sentence: "This will be your favorite Pathfinder Tales novel if..."
"...if you like elves, gnomes, demons, fey creatures, ancient archeological sites, and gigantic revelations about the main characters."
What do you find most interesting about Kyonin, the book's setting?
While we give each other a hard time, James Sutter and I have massively overlapping tastes. He wrote the Kyonin article that formed the bulk of my "research" on this novel, and it’s because I loved that material so much that I so desperately wanted to set a story in Kyonin. Again, it’s hard to point to a single thing, but the element of Kyonin that most appeals to me is that the elves abandoned the place and came back thousands of years later. There’s stuff in the forest they don’t even remember, and other stuff they’ve forgotten how to use. To them it’s as dangerous as it is potentially useful—even moreso to outsiders like Varian and Radovan.
What makes elven society so different from human society, and how did you go about trying to show that in this book?
I think the key to most non-human species in Golarion or any fantasy setting is that they are—let’s not kid ourselves—basically human. Otherwise we couldn’t sympathize with them the way we need to do. But elves and dwarves and gnomes all emphasize certain elements of human characteristics.
One way—surely not the only way—to look at the elves is through the gods they worship. Some are devoted to the Green, or nature. Others worship Desna, who Count Jeggare sees as the Tender of Dreams while Radovan calls her Lady Luck. But the god most often associated with the elves is Calistria, with her three aspects or "stings": guile, lust, and revenge. While the inquisitor Kemeili is the one most obviously associated with the goddess, you also see Calistria’s "stings" in most of the other elven characters. The exception is the paladin Oparal, who grew up away from her people and who has adopted a different set of values.
Showing off the lust aspect is easy, since elves are often seen as sexual creatures. The guile is also pretty familiar to readers who think of elves as stealthy rangers or subtle thinkers. The revenge element seems a little unusual for the elves of other settings, but I kept it in mind until the last few chapters of the novel.
Queen of Thorns has a dragon as a key character—how do you go about writing a "monstrous" character, especially one so old and powerful?
I suppose I tried to do a little of that through description, but mostly I relied on dialogue and the reaction of other characters to her. Rough and tough as he is, Radovan doesn’t usually scare easy, but he’s sure he’s one wrong word away from death every time he talks to the dragon.
Of course, when the fighting starts, what a dragon is able to do against dozens or even hundreds of opponents is pretty terrifying. Unfortunately for her, she’s got a lot more than hundreds to deal with, and ultimately I don’t think she’s the scariest presence in the book, although she’s darned close.
If you could have Radovan and Jeggare fight or fall in love with any character from another author's Pathfinder Tales novel, who would it be and why?
I look forward to the day when Radovan meets Ellasif from Elaine’s Winter Witch. I don’t think it’ll go well for him whether it’s a fight or a frolic. Jeggare might have an interesting relationship with Howard’s Elyanna, but I doubt it would be romantic. She’s not aristocratic enough for him, and I imagine he’s far too snooty for her. If they fought, she’d win in any physical contest, but I have a feeling he might outsmart her.
If you had to pick actors to play the main characters of Queen of Thorns, who would they be?
After musing over deceased actors like Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett, I’ve turned toward Michael Fassbender as the man who should play Count Jeggare. It’s more difficult choosing an actor for Radovan. For attitude, I like Stephen Graham (Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire), but for presence I like Vic Wertz’s suggestion of Ray Stevenson, even though he’s about a foot too tall.
Meg Chambers Steedle (Boardwalk Empire) would make an interesting Kemeili. Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) for Caladrel. Gina Carano (Haywire) is Oparal. Maybe a digitally reduced Giovanni Ribisi (Avatar) as Fimbulthicket. Arnisant, of course, would play himself.