The Magic of For the Killing of Kings: An Interview with Howard Andrew Jones

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Magical skullduggery, betrayal, heroic adventure, and the bonds of friendship are hallmarks of For the Killing of Kings, the first in a new fantasy series by Howard Andrew Jones. While weaving a complex world of magic, politics, warrior hierarchies, and historic battles, Jones never loses sight of his characters. The result is a suspenseful romp through a world that never ceases to fascinate, and the promise of a ramping up of the stakes and action in future books.

I caught up with Howard to talk about his inspiration for the series, his experience writing for the Pathfinder series, his worldbuilding process, and more.

In For the Killing of Kings you’ve created an extensive, detailed world that feels as if it could contain many stories—a mark of the most immersive fantasy series. There is a complex magic system, political hierarchy, and history. Can you talk about what your process was like, in creating a world at this level of detail and complexity?
Thank you for that. I think the first step was to love my characters. Three of the central ones have been kicking around in my head for 25 years or so, survivors of earlier fantasy novels that never got published (and shouldn’t be). Part of the history is leftovers from those stories, some is inspired from ancient history (I’m a big fan), and the rest is a riff on things I thought were exciting to hear about and might have happened in the society I was creating for the characters. I think one of the most important questions I asked was what great leaders had inspired the book’s protagonists? What might those people have done?

It’s said that some Viking warriors, like the famed Egil, would extemporaneously compose verse in the midst of battle, which was pretty impressive. I got to thinking that would be pretty neat for some character to do, and wondered what sort of verse my mad archer, Kyrkenall, might compose. I realized he wouldn’t be chanting verse it in a vacuum—if he was laying down some couplets from time to time he probably had to be familiar with other poets, and as he’s from an ancient society, probably some playwrights as well. So I gave some thoughts to who some of those poets and playwrights were, and why Kyrkenall preferred one above all the others.

I wanted to write about warriors who belonged to a heroic corps, and it was very important to me that their organization felt not only real, but that it had a code that sounded inspiring. I spent a lot of time reading up on sacred oaths and swearing-in ceremonies to create such things for key scenes of my book. I hoped to have something that felt like it would inspire the characters in my story, and maybe inspire heroic action from some of those who were reading it!

In short, then, the world building began from small places–all related to the characters–and then grew out from there in the hope I could give them an interesting place to move around in.

Your first series, which began with The Desert of Souls, had clear roots in Middle Eastern history and magic. By contrast, the inspiration for the world in For the Killing of Kings is less apparent. Can you point to any particular inspirations for this new series?
While my Arabian historical fantasies are sort of a love letter to historical fiction writer Harold Lamb, and to some extent Robert E. Howard in historical mode, I think my heart’s pretty much on my sleeve for these books. The first fantasy series I read as a very young man that blew the doors off for me was Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. To begin with, there was the ongoing mystery that’s revealed in layer after layer as the story progresses. I so wanted to pull that off some day–create a series where the deeper you got, the more your understanding of character motivations changed, and the more your fundamental concept of the world altered.

And then of course Amber had frighteningly capable lead characters, charismatic and dangerous and charming and often completely at odds with each other.

Amber was a product of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and so was the movie The Four Musketeers, which I caught in the theatre as a little boy, not even cognizant of the existence of its preceding movie, The Three Musketeers. The esprit de corps, the swashbuckling, the loyalty, the friendship, the witty banter – it had a tremendous impact upon me, and when I got older, I dived into the Dumas book (and its many sequels) behind the movie.

Those are the largest influences. I sure tried to create a world with deep secrets and intrigue. I have a group of elite heroes, like The Three Musketeers, who are a little superhuman, sort of like Amberites. But rather than being brothers and sisters scheming for domination or survival, they’re sworn to protect the realms and to stand as one–until someone discovers something he wasn’t meant to see, and someone else gets framed for a murder, and then they end up at odds…

Anyway, the goal was to create male and female characters other people could love as much as I had loved Corwin and Benedict of Amber, to fill the pages with journeys to fantastic places among people who were fun to travel with, and to have my loyal heroes stand together against the odds, doing the right thing even when no one was watching. They’re flawed and a little broken, but they strive to do right, because they believed in their code, and their friends.

In your Pathfinder novels, you were working in someone else’s universe. Did your experience working in a shared world have an impact in how you work as an author of your own original novels?
That’s a good question. It wasn’t so much the shared universe that impacted me as the rough proposal and detailed outline process. When you’re managing a product line where you not only have fiction writers crafting stories about different places in the same world, but have adventure supplements being authored as well, there has to be a lot of coordination so details don’t contradict, or so that a writer doesn’t change important features or places that are necessary for some future product.

As a result, I had to set down some pretty involved outlines and get them approved before I started writing. By the time I’d written the outline to my fourth book, my outlining skills had improved significantly.

I don’t use the same outline process for my own work, but the way I thought about story construction improved after using that method—and experience with their method helped me develop my own.

By the end of this book, it looks like the payoff is going to be huge. What are your plans for the series?
Book two is in the hands of my editor, and we’re going over some fairly minor changes to put the book into its final shape. I can’t imagine it will be more than a year before it’s released. Book three is fully outlined and I was in the midst of drafting the third chapter when I had to stop work and devote time to the changes demanded of book two.

Everything should wrap up in a satisfying way at the end of that third novel. If there’s a real demand (one can always hope) I have a few ideas for some books that could feature some of the survivors so that there could be another run of adventures, and I also have an idea for a series set hundreds of years before, featuring the rise to power of the young queen who founded the sacred warrior corps. But all that’s on a back burner right now, and I’m actually scratching down some notes on a completely different series idea.

For the Killing of Kings is available now in hardcover and ebook.

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