Today is an exciting day on the Critiquing Chemist as I will be hosting Peter V. Brett, author of The Demon Cycle, for a spoiler laden conversation regarding the conclusion of his series following the publishing of The Core, in October 2018.
Warning: This post will contain significant spoilers of the Demon Cycle, specifically regarding the ending of The Core.
Previous entries by the Critiquing Chemist in Demon Cycle Contests.
Being surprised by an unexpected spoiler is the worst. To this day, I’ve never finished the TV show Dexter due to a coworker spoiling a key event in Season 4. I would hate to ruin the ending of The Core for anyone, so please forgo reading the remainder of this post until you’ve finished The Demon Cycle series. It’s worth reading for yourself.
With that being said, Peter and I first broached the topic of collaborating on a spoiler-rich post when I met him during his book tour. In typical overanalyzing fashion, the resulting conversation below is focused on several of the outlying and curiosity-based questions I found myself pondering after coming to the end of a much-enjoyed series.
THE FOLLOWING CONVERSATION IS DARK AND FULL OF SPOILERS
Critiquing Chemist: Hello Peter! Thanks for stopping by to discuss and sate my curiosity following finishing The Core. Last chance fellow readers to stop reading this post to avoid spoilers if you haven’t finished this series!
Congrats on finishing The Demon Cycle series! As someone who is intrigued by the writing process I have to ask, was there one character you were surprised at the path they ended up taking or for the most part did you know from the beginning their ultimate fate?
Peter V. Brett: Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for having me, and for cooking up this spoiler interview. I don’t mind saying I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve been waiting eighteen years to finally talk about some of this stuff. Like many passionate Americans, the short story that grew into the Demon Cycle is old enough to vote this year.
I think it’s fair to say every character surprised me at some point. Even Arlen. Maybe especially Arlen. When I first devised his story, I knew how it would all end, but I had meant for him to grow from stubborn boy into a brooding, angry, demon killing Batman and stay there to the end. Wild Renna was going to be his partner in the grim, dark night.
The encounter with the mind demon gave him new perspective, but it was marriage that changed Arlen (and Renna) in ways I never anticipated. Suddenly at peace with himself, his consciousness expands and his anger fades. The plot never changed, but that shift fundamentally altered the ongoing story in many ways.
The same happened with Leesha. The original plot of The Skull Throne called for her to lie and tell Thamos the child growing in her was his. But when the time came, it felt so very out of character that it was as if the actress who plays Leesha turned to me and said, “I won’t read those lines.” Instead, she blurted out the truth. It made everything more complicated, but the story was better for it.
Rojer… lived a book longer than intended because he kept making puppy dog eyes and maturing, again thanks to marriage.
Inevera took much more of a hands-on action role in The Core than expected, dropping her manipulator veil at last.
Abban, Ragen, Elissa, Briar and Ashia were meant to be supporting characters, and at least two of them were slated to die by the end of Skull Throne, but all took on a life of their own in my mind and needed their stories told.
CC: With regard to events in The Core, what was the unexpected gift that Kaji left Ahmann based on Inevera’s prophesy? Was it the ruins of the Spear of Ala to offer a respite or the offspring of his ancestors that the demons had been using as a larder for thousands of years that helped distract the hive?
PVB: These things are so inextricably tied in my mind that I can only say “yes”. Jardir finds his ancestor’s stronghold deserted, but Kaji’s army is still there, waiting, when he reaches the hive.
Ironically, those two events are the double punch that lead Ahmann to take the final step and begin questioning everything he’s ever believed.
The Spear of Ala tells Jardir the legends of Kaji are true, and confirms the Deliverer failed. The power of the csar expands his consciousness, but when he reaches for Heaven, he finds nothing. Still reeling from that emotional blow, he encounters the Alamen Fae, heroes cursed to countless generations of enslavement. How could such unfathomable horror be part of the Creator’s plan? That knowledge bomb left by Kaji shaped the man who marched into the hive.
CC: What was the part Abban had to play in Sharak Ka? Was it fighting the mind demon to keep secrets about Arlen and Ahmann from the Queen or was it fated around organizing the chaotic aftermath?
PVB: This is one of the more common questions. I thought it was implied in the text, but I should have made it clearer. The mind demon controlling the Eunuch Monastery was the one directing the demons attacking Docktown. The last Inevera POV we see before Abban encounters the coreling prince is of Docktown’s forces being overwhelmed at every side.
If Abban, Ashia, Briar and little Kaji hadn’t all been in that exact place at that exact time, the demon would have been victorious and Docktown crushed before Arlen ever made it to the Core.
But that’s not to say Abban’s story is done…
CC: What happened to Fort Krasia during the Waning in which our other protagonists were fighting for their lives? Did the Majah make it back to safety in time or will Ahmann forge a peace with them again or will the dice fortunes hold true that blood will be shed in order to forcibly move them?
PVB: The Majah (and their much more numerous greenland slaves) made it back to the Desert Spear and returned to the old ways, baiting demons into the Maze and setting upon them. Arlen’s magic did not reach all the way across the desert, so the events at the end of The Core went unnoticed.
There’s a story there yet to be told, and it’s never wise to bet against the dice.
CC: How would the Asome, Asukaji and Ashia reunion have played out, especially with the betrayal that Ashia experienced?
PVB: Divorce proceedings, child custody contracts, visitation schedules, division of marital assets…
CC: What was the fate of the Alagai Ka mind demon that lead our heroes into the Core? Was he either exterminated in Arlen’s wide sweeping foray or perhaps absorbed into the Core like Arlen? Mayhap he has he survived to plot his revenge another day?
PVB: He got away.
CC: When Arlen dissipates in the final scene, he sees other continents and the sheer vastness of the world. As such, how do people in other areas fight with the demons? Or are the demons limited to this specific land mass of the world?
PVB: Demons are a worldwide problem each culture handles in its own way—some quite differently than we’ve seen. I have extensive notes.
CC: Now that there are no more demons, will humans be able to continue manipulating magic? Will the healing skills learned using hora be sustainable without demon bones readily available? Or what about the dama’ting? Will that foretelling skill be lost due to a lack of dice material?
PVB: Magic is still around, but its use will need to evolve. There are still demon drones that were beyond Arlen’s reach, but without a queen, they cannot breed. There vast reduction in available hora will make the price of magic increasingly dear.
Bones that have been properly prepared and coated can be recharged, but the ambient magic that vents up from the Core is too diffuse to refill them quickly. However, the greatwards gather ambient magic over vast swathes of land, providing a well of power skilled manipulators can draw upon.
CC: Continuing on this same thread regarding fallout of eliminating the demons. Will the reverse aging aspect of killing a coreling be accelerated back to normal, or return at its usual pace now that there are no demons to kill? Additionally, for the Cutters, Renna, or anyone that was in regular contact with killing demons for that matter, will the sudden cold turkey absence of the associated power surge experienced from killing a coreling be similar to a drug withdrawal?
PVB: Folk who live on a greatward will have a portion of the longevity and good health that comes from demon feedback magic, but it won’t be what it was; making the young age quicker and the old shed years. The juicing days are over, but subtler things, like Elona getting pregnant in her fifties, will become commonplace.
Withdrawal will vary from fighter to fighter—difficult for some, unbearable to others. Some folk will see it as a relief, others as a punishment.
Those who have eaten demon flesh will retain a permanent bit of magic in their blood, able (with training) to Draw on ambient magic for strength.
CC: During the decent into the Core, I found myself as a reader drawing connections both to Dante and the Wizard of Oz (poppy field). What were your inspirations for the various levels of the Core that were so unique compared to previously encountered landscapes in the series?
PVB: I’m flattered you think me so literary. I think I skimmed Cliff’s Notes to pass the test on Dante, and I only know the Wizard of Oz movie. The descent into the Core was more Dungeons and Dragons than Greek tragedy.
The Alamen Fae and Spear of Ala were cards in my back pocket for years, as were some of the more mundane pitfalls any caver faces. I like thinking about how countless generations of exposure to Core magic could evolve things into much more frightening versions. The zombie fungus was inspired by articles I read about the real word fungus ophiocordyceps unilateralis. Search the name if you want to have nightmares about mushrooms for the rest of your life. The magic-sucking tube worms, as well, were inspired by real world counterparts.
There were also some deleted scenes where the group fights cave demons, who spray magic-dead silk that can cover wards and prevent them from drawing power.
CC: One of my absolute favorite parts of The Demon Cycle series as a whole was the actual journey to the Core that triggered so many questions from me. Kaji’s war, in general, must have been vastly different than the one waged by Ahmann and Arlen. In addition to the demons adding many traps in the 5,000 years since Kaji’s war, the modern adventure was comprised of a handful of people, whereas the ancient struggle encompassed vast armies. These differences serve to highlight the enormous odds that Arlen had to overcome to succeed. What caused Kaji to falter so close to the end goal?
PVB: Kaji needed to return to the surface to levy more troops. The hive was weakening, but he did not have enough warriors for the final press. On the surface, much of the thirst for war was fading; Kaji had been underground for too many years, vast numbers of Sharum and supplies disappearing though the Mouth of the Abyss, never to return. He needed to go in person to make his case, and while he was away from his seat of power in the csar, the demons collapsed the caverns.
On the surface, it seemed like he won. The demon armies were so depleted they stopped rising at night. It seemed to folk that the Shar’Dama Ka had been victorious, but Kaji knew better and wrote the Evejah so people would never forget the threat.
CC: On this same topic, how did Ahmann’s ancestors build such amazing, elaborate structures in such hostile environments? Do you foresee perhaps writing a prequel or would lifting the veil will ruin some of the mystery surrounding the legend of this literary world?
PVB: A prequel starring Kaji is probably the most fan-requested story, but I don’t have plans for one at the moment. I am focused more on events moving forward, though I will reveal more about the past as we go.
That said, I have some ideas, so you never know when I might get to it.
CC: After the novella, Barren, is released in September, do you plan on exploring The Demon Cycle realm further? I can’t help but contemplate both the fates of Tibbet’s Brook and the next generation we were introduced to at the end of The Core. There were some rather weighty prophesies revealed regarding the futures of both Gared’s illegitimate daughter and Olive that I’m sure readers would love to see realized.
PVB: Barren will wrap up the remaining loose ends in Tibbet’s Brook. The story there was originally meant to happen in book 4, but the story got too big and I needed to carve out some space by making Barren it’s one separate book, much like I did with Messenger’s Legacy, Brayan’s Gold or The Great Bazaar.
There is definitely more to explore.
CC: Well thank you again Peter for addressing my lingering queries. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your answers and I’m looking forward to your next project! Barren will be published September 20, 2018 in the UK and September 25, 2018 in the US.
Comments are open… for now.
Please keep things friendly.