Insider 11-27-2017

Author Richard Lee Byers talks about his brand-new Iron Kingdoms novel, Black Crowns, which brings back the Black River Irregulars in the sequel to the popular Black Dogs novel. When the Black River Irregulars take on a job in the war-torn nation of Llael, they quickly get in over their heads. What begins as a simple search for an antique book becomes a fight for their lives when the Nightmare Empire of Cryx sends its own agents to seize the book. Amid this chase the BRI is also forced to deal with a specter from their own past, to evade the Northern Crusade, and to uncover the dark latent power within a trio of ancient Unbrean crowns—the eponymous black crowns.

Richard took some time out of his writing schedule to talk about the new book and some of his other work with the Black River Irregulars in the Iron Kingdoms…

1) What drew you to the Black River Irregulars and your first tale of their adventures, MURDER IN CORVIS?

I like colorful, quirky protagonists, maybe not quite antiheroes but characters with flaws, rough edges, and day-to-day concerns that aren’t especially focused on moral issues. That’s definitely the Black River Irregulars. I came up with plot for MURDER IN CORVIS because the Undercity of Corvis is a fascinating setting and because I like fantasy stories that involve the solution of a mystery.

2) Where did you begin with your story and thought process for the new book, BLACK CROWNS?

This may seem paradoxical given my previous answer, but my first thought was that I wanted to get the heck out of the Undercity of Corvis. Interesting though that environment is, both MURDER IN CORVIS and BLACK DOGS happen there. It was time to freshen things up with a change of scene.

Having determined that, I needed to decide where I was going. Llael is close enough to Cygnar that it made sense for the Irregulars to be offered a job there, and its partitioning by mutually hostile forces made it relatively easy to generate the conflicts essential to any adventure story. As a bonus, Canice Gormleigh originally hailed from Llael. I’d suggested in previous installments that she’d fled the country with assassins in hot pursuit, and this novel was my chance to tell that backstory.

Finally, MURDER IN CORVIS and BLACK DOGS mainly feature human antagonists. Another way to freshen things up was to deal more with the monsters of the setting, so I came up with a plot that made that possible.

3) When it came time to write BLACK CROWNS, what did you take from the previous novel, BLACK DOGS, that contributed to the new story?

To begin even a step further back, MURDER IN CORVIS is the story of how the Irregulars get together. BLACK DOGS is sort of their shakedown cruise, where they learn to trust one another—at least somewhat—and work as a team. There are still some growing pains evident in BLACK CROWNS, but the characters are more comfortable with one another and are mostly okay with the idea that they’re on the team for the long haul. Their individual abilities have grown, too. For example, Eilish casts some spells he didn’t know in the previous stories, and Doorstop is a more formidable steamjack. Of course, all this means a novel can throw bigger challenges at them, and BLACK CROWNS does.

4) What excites you about writing in the Iron Kingdoms?

I’ve always loved sword-and-sorcery, and the Iron Kingdoms is fundamentally a gritty sword-and-sorcery universe, so there’s that for starters. But beyond fundamental considerations of genre, I like writing in a shared world that has its own unique flavor, and the steampunk overlay gives the Iron Kingdoms that. I also like working in a shared setting that’s been laid out in considerable detail, and as readers of the gaming sourcebooks can attest, this universe is pretty extraordinary in that regard.

5) Among the Black River Irregulars, who's your favorite character and why? Who would you like to see get a little more character development?

Eilish is probably my favorite. He’s brilliant, handsome, gets off a lot of wisecracks, is a formidable swordsman, and can work magic, so among the crew, he’s certainly the one I’d like to be.

That said, with his unrepentant criminal tendencies, Milo is a lot of fun to write.

As far as more character development goes, they all have vivid personalities to me, but I have to remember what I’ve actually set down in the stories versus what’s still mostly in my head. With that in mind, it may be that Colbie, Natak, and Gardek are the ones with the most still-hidden facets to their characters.

6) What are your thoughts on future writing in the setting? What sorts of stories do you envision tackling, even beyond the Black River Irregulars?

Honestly, I haven’t thought too much about writing stories beyond the Irregulars because their journey has just begun and there are many more cool stories to tell about them. But the setting is so broad, detailed, and full of possibilities that I would enthusiastically take the opportunity to write about other aspects of it. Perhaps, given that the Irregulars are free agents for hire, it would make a fun change of pace to focus on protagonists who are members of one or another of the various military, political, or religious hierarchies.

Murder in Corvis, Black Dogs, and Black Crowns are all available now from Privateer Press!