For each book I’ve written, I’ve been invited to join the discussions of WotC Novels Book Club (Now The Sundered Book Club, on Goodreads). Every time, it’s been great fun and really rewarding to discuss how these books came together. I especially like hearing how people relate to the characters.
When discussing my last book, <i>Brimstone Angels: Lesser Evils, I sort of jumped the gun though. Dahl Peredur had no more introduced himself, but I posted “SO WHO HATES DAHL?!”
I don’t really mean for you to hate Dahl. Well, that’s not entirely true—sometimes you shouldn’t like him much at all. Dahl is, in a word, prickly. In Lesser Evils, I wanted readers to dislike him, come to know him, and in the end, like him quite a bit. Dahl is proud and wounded, bright and talented and so used to being overlooked that he pushes people aside before they can do it first. There’s a line in The Adversary that sums him up well: “Everything’s personal with you, Dahl.”
And that’s the thing: in a lot of ways, Dahl’s personal for me.
Until I finished college, I had my heart set on academia. I was sure I would be “Dr. Evans” someday. I could go on and on about all the things I loved, but the reality was, once I hit college, that passion started fracturing—particularly because, as it happened, living in a system where people were constantly skeptical of my intelligence in order to boost their own perceived value? Gave me the heaving shakes.
It took until I finished to realize, I wanted that title and that degree because it would mean that no one would ever assume I was there to make the coffee again. Not because I wanted to immerse myself in the subjects I was passionate about for years and years. I realized I really had to learn to stop caring so much if people thought I was smart. That I had to stop identifying myself by how much people valued my intelligence.
I’m not there yet—is anyone there yet? But one thing I love about writing is that, for the most part, the criticism is easier to take. It’s not about me, it’s about my book—or really, good or bad, it’s about the reading experience that reader had. And that has almost nothing to do with me.
In the end, everyone in the book club had the experience I was aiming for. They didn’t like Dahl, they wanted to smack him, they felt sorry for him, he impressed them and then they were rooting for him. Like all of us, Dahl’s trying to shake what aren’t his best qualities.
Despite more than a few roadblocks
So think kind thoughts as you read this, the second, excerpt from The Adversary, all about Dahl…
Dahl Peredur lingered over the last swallow of ale in his flagon, dreading returning to the offices above the Harper-run tavern. He had been sitting scribe for status meetings since daybreak, bent over a scroll and keeping his thoughts to himself. He would be there until sunset, no doubt, the Harper spymaster Tam Zawad asking him periodically if he had anything to add, the other Harpers giving him the sort of looks that clearly said “You’d better not” or “Go ahead, try—you’ll be wrong again” or “What are you even doing
here?” Looks he didn’t dare point out to Tam.
A petite Tuigan woman with a shock of short black hair and large eyes dropped into the chair across from him. “I have been sitting over there,” she said, “well within sight, for the last three-quarters of a bell, and I know you noticed. So why are you sulking over here?”
Dahl swallowed a sigh. “Well met, Khochen. You had company.” He nodded at the woman sitting at the table, wearing a carefully unremarkable dress, her blonde hair caught up in a scarf. Lady Hedare, the agent who carried messages for the Masked Lords of Waterdeep these days.
“Yes, I know. That’s half the reason you should join us.”
Dahl glanced at the noblewoman, who was very deliberately not lookingat Khochen or him, and made a face. “I’m fine here.”
“She hasn’t got a brightbird,” Khochen sang.
“One,” he said, “I’m not interested in Lady Hedare, and I don’t know why you’d think I was. Two, she does so have a brightbird. That bodyguard is doing more than guarding her body—you’re the one who told me that.”
“Did I?” Khochen looked back at Lady Hedare and waved her over. “Well you have to assume if it’s secret, it can’t be that serious.” The noblewoman smiled at Khochen, but took one look at Dahl and declined with a polite gesture.
“Three,” Dahl said, “she doesn’t like me.”
Khochen glared at him. “Well, if you’re going to be sour at her.”
Dahl tilted his glass, considering the dregs. “I’ve never been sour at her.”
“Liar. She said something you didn’t like, I’ll wager. What was it?”
Dahl hesitated. “After Lord Nantar died and she came up . . . there was a misunderstanding. She thought I was Tam’s secretary, for Oghma’s sake.”
He folded his arms. “I may have snapped at her. Now she acts as though I need to be coddled.”
“You are his secretary.”
“Only because someone has to be. I’m still—” He let the protest fall. It was arguable that he really counted as a Harper any longer, and that wasn’t an argument he felt like having. “Fine,” he said. “I’m his secretary.”
“I don’t know why that bothers you. It doesn’t mean you don’t count,” Khochen said, and not for the first time, Dahl wondered if the Westgate spymaster could pick through his thoughts. “You still have your itchy little tattoo to prove it. And while I’m sure it comes in terribly handy while you gather reports and make Tam’s schedule, it seems to mean you’re dedicated.”
Dahl scowled. “You’re going to have to have it done eventually.”
“And ruin this flawless skin?”
“You can’t see it once it’s done,” Dahl said, “unless you trigger it. And it only itches for a tenday.”
“I’ll hold out. I can hide a pin.” Khochen took his flagon from him and finished the ale.
“You owe me another ale for that.”
For a sip? Hardly. Shall we go up?”
Dahl scowled at her again. “What do you mean ‘we’? You’re not due until this afternoon.”
She shrugged. “Vescaras and I tied our missions together. We’re to debrief as a team—didn’t you know that, Goodman Secretary? Come on.” Khochen stood, and though Dahl would much rather have stayed behind, he wasn’t about to make Lord Vescaras Ammakyl comment on the time.
“By the way,” Khochen said, as they slipped through the door that led to the more secretive areas of the Harper hall. “I found out why Vescaras dislikes you so.”
“I don’t care,” Dahl said. “What mission did you help him on? You’ve been in Westgate.”
“Shipping issues. And you care. Otherwise he wouldn’t bother you.”
“He bothers me because he’s a self-important prig who can’t see when he’s turned the wrong direction.” They headed up a flight of stairs, down a long hallway lined with rooms, and into an unassuming guest room that held another stairway. “His last reports were insisting that six earthmotes crashing on or in sight of the Trade Way means a conspiracy of wizards.”
“He’s idiotic,” Dahl said. “The rituals needed to take down one earthmote would have to mean that a cadre of archwizards the likes of which Vescaras of all people would have noticed is running around Faerûn wasting their powers on making caravans detour.”
“Did you tell him that?”
“No, and I wasn’t intending to. Tam will give him some other mission, and it won’t matter. Arguing will just set Vescaras against me more.”
“Maybe Tam thinks he could be right. There are worse uses of magic.”
“Yes, well, if you find Karsus, the Srinshee, and bloody Elminster gloating over a caravan they’ve just tipped, then I’ll concede. Until then . . .” He opened the door to Tam Zawad’s study and waved Khochen in. Vescaras was already there. Of course he was.