The big day is finally here, A DANCE OF CLOAKS by David Dalglish releases today! Look for it online and in stores everywhere. And if you haven’t been following along, be sure to check out the art team’s excellent behind-the-scenes look at the development of the Shadowdance covers.
In high school I devoured R. A. Salvatore’s Drizzt books. I loved the sense of adventure, the epic feel to the characters, but as is probably common when you read any author far too much, quirks here and there started to annoy me (a few of which I’m sure aren’t even Salvatore’s fault). The biggest was the sense that things were kept toned down to appeal to a wider audience. The really adult stuff was only hinted at, the darker stuff kept safely in the shadows.
That’s kind of a problem given how much I love villains. Love them. Probably too much, really. This is something the Shadowdance series actually suffers from a bit, because with so many morally gray characters I don’t have too many out and out villains to give the spotlight to (though I’m finally bringing in one such character in book 5, and by god I’m having a ball with him). For as far back as I can remember, I’ve disliked bland, two-dimensional villains. Even worse, though, are villains that aren’t really villains, just men that happen to be on the opposite side of a conflict with the heroes. Don’t mistake me here, I like it when it’s done well…but deep down I crave a villain like the Joker from the Dark Knight. I want a villain who can grab someone’s gun, put it to his head, and growl about how chaos is fair. I want a villain that everyone in the world can see is evil, yet at the same time, cannot deny the pull they have, the sheer charisma that surrounds them. Doing that means treading into the dark waters. Doing that means characters you love might stumble and fall.
While I was still in college I began what would eventually become my very raw and uneven Half-Orc books. I took everything I loved and tried to boil it all down to its very essence. I’ve never been confident in my world-building, my setting up of cities and families. But I knew what I wanted my characters to go through, the story I wanted to tell. I wanted it brutal, with characters that wouldn’t always live up to the standards they desired for themselves (kind of like, you know, real people). I had one main character’s daughter die, and there was no one at fault, and yet everyone’s at the same time. Yet no matter how grand the fights, how ridiculously over the top, I’d do whatever I could to keep the fights personal, and the reader invested.
That is what I do, what I try every time I sit down to write. When the fights begin, whether it be massive armies, assassins, paladins, or mythical creatures, I try to go to the furthest extreme of awesomeness in the conflict…yet when it all calms down, it’s about a man loving his brother, yet also hating him for the choices he’s made and the loved ones he’s hurt. Or a paladin torn over his friendship for a man his god calls for him to execute. Or in A DANCE OF CLOAKS (US | UK | AUS), it’s about a son wishing he could find approval from his father without being the monster his father would have him become.
I guess if asked what sets me apart, what makes me special, I’d say that is it. No pretention. I’ll never try to impress anyone with my vocabulary or research or ability to describe a scene. But I think I can make you care about my characters. I think I can make you hurt when one dies, and cheer when the villains get the crap beat out of them, all while blazing through my book at a breakneck pace. I’ll never treat you like an idiot, nor avoid the issues in their lives that might not have easy answers. In other words: I’ll entertain you. Honestly, if I can do that, I feel like I’ve done my job.