“It was all going so nicely, right up until the massacre.”
With a first line like that, there’s no way a book won’t be an exciting ride. Epic fantasy A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER is just that: an exciting ride with a villain maybe not quite past her prime as she seeks revenge on an empire.
Today, we’re joined by A Crown for Cold Silver‘s author, Alex Marshall, to talk about the book’s delightfully villainous protagonist, the influences on the world of the Star, and possibly playing favorites.
Cold Zosia’s not exactly the hero of the novel — she’s a Villain. When I first read the book, I knew it would be an exciting ride during that opening, when an unsuspecting commander tries to threaten Zosia after destroying her village and — well, we’ll just say he doesn’t get that far. What made you want to write a novel about a villain, and a retired one at that?
Whether I am writing or reading I am always drawn to characters who don’t fit into easily delineated categories. I don’t really believe there are heroes or villains, just complicated people, and in part the novel became a meditation on this; one peasant’s hero is another bard’s villain. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with texts that feature absolute good versus absolute evil, I’m just not interested in writing them.
As for why we meet Zosia later in life, that was just how she came to me… but if I had to guess I’d say she oozed up out of my subconscious in the way she did because I’m always curious about what happens after the story ends, what happens next for the characters. So opening this novel twenty years after another one might have ended just seemed the natural starting point. Real life doesn’t contain neat three-act structures or tidy character arcs, and applying the sprawling chaos of the actual world to my fictional ones is something I do by habit at this point.
One of my favorite scenes in A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER is when Zosia meets her impostor and discovers what she’s been wearing into battles. (I’m pretty sure I’d be equally horrified to meet someone who thought a chainmail bikini was a great idea.) What was your favorite scene to write?
I am bad with picking favourites, but the one you mentioned certainly ranks (and I’m glad you liked it). I will say that as far as more serious scenes went, I was pleased with how Zosia, Maroto, and Sullen’s uncomfortable reunion came together — finding the exact right way to intersect three plotlines can be tricky, especially when they are all coming from unique, conflicting perspectives, but that scene wrote itself.
A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER is rich with locations, culture, and history. What were some of the things that influenced the Star and its inhabitants?
I take influence from everything and anything that crosses my eyes or ears: literature, music, mythology, comic books, television, movies, animation, and games, be they video, tabletop, or board. And more than media, my greatest inspiration is the world around me, with all its wonders and horrors. That gets into the meat of the matter, I think, because for all the monsters and magic of the Star, most of the fantastical settings have their roots in our real past.
From inception I wanted the Star to be more than just another faux-medieval European fantasyland, so I logged many an hour researching various cultures (and their histories and folklore) at my university’s library. Most fantasy fiction obviously grows out of a quasi-historical setting, and I know some people have very strict ideas about not mixing elements from different eras and locales, but I was less concerned with that and more invested in creating a rich world that felt authentic yet fantastical. In some cases I limited the predominant influences to a single geographic region (but not era), such as with the Rajduhan Dominions—they came out of my interest in the shifting borders and allegiances of the Rajput Kingdoms on the Indian sub-continent, and the rise of the Mughal and Maratha Empires.
On the other hand, some of my imagined cultures were the synthesis of very different societies and epochs. The Immaculate Isles, for example, takes much of its inspiration from Korea’s middle Joseon period, but also from various neighboring island cultures, and Flintland contains elements of the Azande people of central Africa, the Zulu Kingdom of southern Africa, and a clutch of pre-modern Scandinavian peoples. I will say it’s obviously a challenge for westerners to incorporate other cultures into their fiction without exoticizing them, especially since mystery and wonder and, well, the exotic are at the heart of fantasy, but I’ve never felt that good writing came out of avoiding a challenge. I hope my appreciation for my inspirations comes through as just that, but would rather risk a well-intentioned misstep than play it safe and create another conspicuously familiar and monochromatic world.
It’s really hard picking favorites as an author, but I’ll ask you anyway: of every character whose point of view is included in the book, which was your favorite to write? Why did you enjoy it so much?
Again, I’m not one for favourites, and I don’t know if I would really describe the act of writing as enjoyable much of the time… but I will say Sister Portolés surprised me the most as I wrote her, and that’s always a rewarding experience. When we first meet her it’s through Zosia’s perspective, and Portolés is set up to be one of the few people we can personally hold accountable for the massacre of Zosia’s village. Yet over the course of her narrative it becomes apparent that Portolés is more of a tragic hero than she is a villain, something I hadn’t planned on but made perfect sense as I fleshed her out. And besides, if I’m being honest with myself I did have a bit of fun writing her, too — she is a warnun with a massive, mystical hammer and a heretical sidekick, after all, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
Alex Marshall’s A Crown for Cold Silver is available in paperback now from Orbit Books US — find it on IndieBound.