Jenn Lyon’s debut The Ruin of Kings is one of the best books of 2019, and now, not even a year later, we’re getting the second installment, which is another contender for the “best of” list in its own right. We had the good fortune of grabbing some of Lyons’ time to discuss her spectacular debut, The Ruin of Kings and the immanent follow up, The Name of All Things, as well as gaming, writing, and dragons.
There is extensive history and a very long list of characters—where did you begin work on this world and how did you build it out?
Because I’ve been working on this setting for so long, it’s really quite difficult to say where it started. The other day I realized that one of the characters in the series, Thaena, is based on someone I created when I was fourteen. Fourteen! Oh…god. I used to say I’ve been creating this setting for twenty years, but It’s really closer to thirty years. Definitely a labor of love. And over the years various parts of the world have been refined and refined repeatedly. Parts of Quur are unrecognizable from what originally existed—except it’s always been a terrible place. That hasn’t changed.
We really enjoyed your use of Thurvishar’s footnotes as part of the framework, it really added to story. What was the drafting process for that like? Did you write them later in the writing process or were they part of the process from early on?
The first draft was quite linear (third person, omniscient narrator) and so I didn’t have footnotes. Once I realized that Thurvishar had to be the person pulling the story together from sources which would themselves be unreliable, the footnotes just seemed so obvious. Of course he’d footnote the story. It’s his nature to do so. And the second book, which has a different narrator, is footnoted precisely because the first book was. (Senera and Thurvishar have a bit of narrator rivalry happening.)
How has your past work in the gaming industry impacted your work?
Oh, it’s had a huge impact, but I would say more in terms of process than anything else. The skills I learned as a producer have been invaluable as a writer, which I find simply hilarious. It turns out that agile management frameworks are good for a great deal more than programming.
Your dragons feel otherworldly. Not just mythical beasts that knights aspire to slay but creatures beyond normal understanding. What inspired your take on dragons?
I have always loved terrifying dragons. Awe-inspiring
dragons. And as I grew older I couldn’t help but notice that dragons were
becoming increasingly…cuddly. Now they always have been (literally one of the
first popular fiction western dragon stories is about a cuddly dragon) and
there’s nothing wrong with that but I wanted to see a depiction of dragons
where they were NOT man’s best friend.
I think it’s very thematically interesting, for example, that European-style dragons exist to be conquered and slain by knights and Asian-style dragons are forces of nature that cannot always be understood must be bargained with, placated, respected. (I have a nagging suspicion there’s probably some sort of message there about our relationships with the rest of the world…) Anyway, when it came to making my own dragons, I strove for that sense of a force of nature — albeit corrupted in this case. None of the dragons in this series are anyone’s friend.
The Stone of Shackles is one of our favorite bits of magic from any book in recent memory. What’s the genesis of this stone that swaps a victim’s soul into a would-be murderer’s body?
I have a strange thing about soul-swapping my writing. Someone pointed out to me a while back that I’ve never written anything that didn’t have a dragon, a shapechanger, or soul-swapping — and likely all of the above. So…I’m not sure what that says about me? But I have no idea where the soul-swapping enthusiasm comes from. Certainly when I started coming up with the abilities for the Cornerstones, the Stone of Shackles just seemed quite obvious. Blame my twisty little brain, I suppose.
The Four Races; Vané, Voras, Voramer, and Vordredd all had a role to play in the events of The Ruin of Kings, but the Vané we learned the most about their history. What can we expect from The Name of All Things as far as the history of the other three races?
Not much, honestly. The story mostly takes place in Jorat, which is one of the dominions of the Quuros empire and thus not a place where one’s likely to run into any of the other four races (although spoiler: vané do show up). Later books, however, will delve much more deeply into the history of the Four Races.
We know there’s a third volume planned, but will that be the conclusion to A Chorus of Dragons? Are there more books, in the series or in the larger world?
It’s a five-book series, not three! The third book is just
the mid-point. ‘Just’ of course meaning ‘the book where I stop being so nice to
Yeah, I…I did just say that. I’m so sorry. [She’s not really. –ed]
As for other books set in the same world, I have some plans for that too, but we’ll just have to see how that goes.