Let’s get all geeky here for a moment and forget publishing a little. After all, if I don't get the books right from the start, they ain't gonna see print. So let's talk about Gods, those deus ex machina.
Let's talk about my "Dar'uka..."
To explain where I am, I want you to think about superheroes, those brightly coloured spandex guys with square jaws and bursting biceps. In superhero terms Superman is perhaps the dullest hero of them all. He’s the man of steel, and other than a dose of kryptonite, there isn’t much that will phase the guy. He's not even morally ambiguous. In fact it’s only the peril of those he’s trying to save that makes him interesting at all and most of the time you just know he’ll save the good guys, get the girl and hand the bad guys in to the authorities (and I might add, at no harm to himself).
In other words, he is deus ex machina personified as the main character.
Things get more interesting when Superman faces Super-bad-guys, as in Superman II, when you get the ultimate superhero smack-down: three deus ex machina against one. Even now, that confrontation – however badly it holds up these days in terms of special effects – sends me to “geek heaven” (as Buddy from The Incredibles would have put it). For once you feel Superman is in peril; you feel he might get beaten because what’s 3 against 1?
Now I mention all this because potentially I could fall into the same trap of Superman with my new book The Traitor of Light. I think my publisher saw it as well and didn’t want to take the risk that I couldn’t pull it off, wanting a more human-based sequel to The Hoard of Mhorrer. My argument has always been that The Traitor of Light won’t be a Superman: the Movie. It will be a Superman II, because the plot centres around a Dar’uka gone bad, and all the main characters are those same “deus ex machina”. Yet by virtue of this, what makes deus ex machina weak in terms of plotting no longer applies. Again, pinching a quote from The Incredibles, Buddy says “when everybody becomes super, then nobody is.” In other words, if the deus ex machina are in trouble, who is going to save them? Well, the answer is “no one.” A book about only gods and angels becomes a level playing field. Immortals seem very mortal when they’re fighting their own.
That’s what makes this story compelling to me as a writer. I'll need to tread the tight-rope of keeping my “deus ex machina” – the Dar’uka – as intimidating and powerful as they have been in previous books, yet show they do have their weaknesses; not so much their kryptonite or garlic/stake/cross, but a weakness in their arrogance. "Gods are fallible": either that’s a statement of blasphemy or an unfortunate fact, but throughout religions and myths and legends, Gods make mistakes. They learn from them, but when that mistake is made, the implications are enormous for us lowly mortals.
This applies to The Traitor of Light. Those who have already read The Hoard of Mhorrer will know what I mean from the ending of that book. Traitor of Light explains why that has happened and the consequences for book 4, The Fortress of Black Glass. Mistakes are made, more than one actually, and things are learned, but at what cost?
Personally, I am confident of pulling this off. I’m still a new writer and this book will be a huge challenge for me, but it’s the kind of challenge I need. If The Traitor of Light works then it will be, without a doubt, the strongest of the books so far and certainly the most spectacular (after all, the story shifts from 14th century South America, to the 19th century and the surface of Mars, then to Hell itself – it’s quite a ride). It will still feature William Saxon, though in a limited capacity, as the emphasis will be on those beautiful terrors, the Dar’uka. It will also add some much needed humanity to the Dar’uka themselves (though not too much) and things will be set up nicely for book 4.
So it’s a risk. It’s something different in my career so far. Not too different – this will still be a Secret War novel after all, with battles against daemons (many daemons this time), kafalas and even Dar’uka vs Dar’uka. But it will also be a story of subtleties, with an underlying theme of betrayal, not only by the bad guy but by the good guys too. The title of The Traitor of Light refers to all the main characters at some point in the story.
As I mentioned above, “Gods make mistakes…”
Here’s hoping I don’t.
(PS: The comments below may include SPOILERS)