I’ve got some short news and some long news, not sure if either rises to the level of good or bad.
The short news is, while I initially thought I could conclude the sixth and last book of the Norothian Cycle by the end of this year, that is not going to happen now. Nothing is wrong, per se, other than while actually writing this book, I’ve come to realize exactly how much remains to be resolved. I honestly don’t think I can wrap up the story to anybody’s satisfaction (least of all my own) in only one more book. Not without making it some quarter-million-plus-word monstrosity that won’t be available for half a year or more later than I hoped.
Ergo, my loose (and I stress “loose”) intention now is still to have Book 6 ready to go around the time I hoped (late this year, or more likely early next). But it is not going to be the last book of the series. There will be a Book 7. I throw myself on the mercy of the court, and hope to thank you for your patience.
The long news is the same news, just expressed in a far more detailed and wordy fashion.
Here’s the thing about writing an epic fantasy series with a lot of sprawl to it and a cast o’ thousands: stuff gets complicated. Really, really complicated. All the way along, the scope increases as the characters assume larger roles within the world of the story. So by several volumes in, what character X does makes a difference not just for them and the people immediately around them – it makes a difference for *everything.*
Add to that the point that from the very beginning, the Norothian Cycle has to an extent been about tweaking (not twerking) a number of traditional fantasy tropes – particularly the one about there being some Great Evil One behind all that is wrong in the world. That is a handy-dandy device, and it works really slick as there is a lot of built-in catharsis when the Big Baddy is inevitably defeated, as they always are. I am not knocking that at all; it’s foundational to the genre in a lot of ways, and it has been done extremely effectively in a lot of great books. But it’s not the way I went.
The first book in the series, The Sable City, was always meant to be a “traditional” adventure as an entry point to the larger story. Tilda, Zeb, John, Nesha-tari, Claudja, Phin, Heggenauer, Uriako and Amatesu – the nine characters I refer to in my own shorthand as “the fun bunch” – come together with different and sometimes conflicting purposes. But they are all thrown together in a version of a “dungeon crawl,” and have to cooperate to get out alive, achieve their goals, so forth and so on. The fun bunch is a version of the typical “adventuring party,” with a number of the classic fantasy roles / archetypes represented, albeit it with some more tweaks. The Stalwart Knight is a heartbroken samurai, the Kindly Healer is a former assassin, the Fair Princess is an ambitious noblewoman side-lining in revenge, etc. By the end of the book however, that particular adventure is over, and so is the party. The characters start going their own way even before the epilogue.
The reason that happens is that I didn’t want the larger struggle that ensues in the subsequent books to be as simple as Good vs. Evil. Instead, the characters who began as situational allies begin to move onto opposing sides of what will be a larger conflict; either by necessity, by choice, or by accident. And while I assume some readers will have more allegiance to some characters than others, and thus be on “their side,” I didn’t want to make any one side too much lighter or darker than any of the others. People on all sides of a war are always convinced that they are doing the right thing, for themselves and for their community or society. I didn’t want to lose that reality, even for a war in a “fantasy world” with dragons and hobgoblins, empires and theocracies.
Books 2-5 have continued to follow members of the fun bunch as they have dispersed to different places, or clung together in others. Often the only way to do that was to divide the narrative within books into self-contained “parts,” or even to make whole books “free-standing” from what, plot-wise, is the main narrative line. (NOTE: What follows may included some weak spoilers, though if you haven’t read the books by now I’m guessing you stopped reading this post already due to lack of interest) –
Book 2 – Death of a Kingdom. Part One sticks with the “main party” group in the city of Souterm, headed by Tilda and Zeb. Part Two follows Nesha-tari back Ayzantine territory, and has nothing to do directly with parts one or three. Part Three returns to Tilda & Co. accompanying Claudja back to her home duchy.
Book 3 – The Wind from Miilark follows John back home to the Islands, then back to Norothian and Kandalan waters. Everything that happens in book 2 basically happens while he is in transit, and only a brief encounter with old friends catches him (and the reader) up on what people have been up to since the end of book 2. Well, except for Phin, who jumps from the “main party” plotline to become a part of John’s.
Book 4 – Devil Town. Part One deals mostly with Claudja, Uriako, and Amatesu from the fun bunch, though they have been joined by other characters by now. Part Two picks up both Nesha-tari’s narrative from book 2 and John’s narrative from book 3, uniting them together, at least briefly. Part Three re-involves Tilda in the plotline from part one of this book, resolving an ongoing issue from books 1 & 2.
Book 5 – The Channel War. Also in three parts, but they are chronological instead of divided by main characters or plotlines, dealing with multiple people and events separated by geography, but not time. The parts cover three separate years in turn, and as the “War” in the title is meant to indicate, larger events are now driving the plot beyond any character’s ability to stop or control them. In some cases, the lives or deaths of the people who initially mattered most in the story are only mile markers along an inevitable road. In other cases, one person’s actions still do make a difference, but not always for the good of all.
Which brings me to where I am now, Book 6 – John the Red, in which I had intended to conclude the Norothian Cycle. I can’t say that was always my intention, as when I started I had loosely envisioned the series as nine books (it is not an accident the number nine crops up so often, neither in the number of main characters constituting the fun bunch, nr in the number of gods making up the Norothian Ennead). I dialed that back to six books more than a year ago while writing #4, for reasons I have likely yammered about here already, and mentioned in the author postscript on book 5.
But now, I am pretty much weaseling out of that six-book intention, as while writing this “last” one I’ve realized just how much remains to be done, how many plotlines need to be resolved, and how many stories deserve to be serviced if the series is going to conclude in anything approaching a satisfactory fashion. I am, at this point, around 100K words into this part of the story, and I am not halfway done. Several of the important characters haven’t reappeared yet, and of those that have, not many are “back together” yet, which was pretty much the point all along. Having characters who began together divide as opposing forces is probably only interesting if they actually meet up again, whether in conflict, or as tenuous allies. And for most of them, I am not there yet.
There is another practical reason I think the remainder of the story’s production is going to take a bit longer than the other books as well, in the editorial phase. For the previous books with divided narratives, I was able to get each “part” out for beta reading and editing, while writing the next part in line. That worked when the parts were more self-contained, but from here on out the parts build directly on each other, expanding the scope of the narrative. They don’t switch from group A to group B to group C. They bring A together with B, and A & B together with C, etc.
A number of my regular beta readers (as always, love you guys), after reading the first completed “part” of the present book pointed out that a couple characters and events don’t actually seem to “go anywhere,” and felt sort of extraneous. And they are right, because of the way the parts have to build on each other now, until the end of the story. Part One didn’t resolve itself the same way the parts of earlier books did, because the characters and plotlines therein flow directly into the next part, or even the part after that. For that reason, having these parts Beta’d in turn doesn’t really work – they really deserve to read the story as a whole before trying to decide if some early element turns out to be necessary. Or if I did actually just chuff it as a writer, which is totally possible. 😉
So, even though book 6 looks to not be the finale of the series now, there will likely still be a delay in getting it out before the end of the year, for the reason that a number of my betas would prefer to only read it all at once, rather than in dribbles. And of course, I actually have to write it so the parts that are in it do add up to a “book” in their own right – an episode of the larger story that doesn’t just end arbitrarily, or on a total cliff-hanger. That’s not my style either; I believe that each book of a series like this needs to be a story unto itself, with a beginning, middle, and end. So that is what I am endeavoring to do now, which of course necessitates some changes even in as much of book 6 as I have already written.
That is what the next installment of the Northothian Cycle will be: the penultimate book of the series. When I have any feel for when it is actually going to be ready, I will of course let you know so right here. Thanks very much, and happy reading.