icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Robin Hobb's Infrequent and Off Topic Blog

The Hidden Queen by Peter V Brett

Peter V Brett and I have been friends for a number of years.  So it was a great pleasure to reconnect with him at the 2024 Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle at the end of February.  And I am very pleased to say that we will both be in attendance at Phoenix Fan Fusion, in Phoenix Arizona from May 24 to 26, 2024.  


Peter's most recent novel, The Hidden Queen, continues the tale begun in The Desert Prince, the first two volumes in his Nightfall Saga.  Both books are set in his Demon Cycle world, and readers will encounter some favorite characters here, as well as meeting new cast member.  


I was fortunate to be able to interview Peter shortly after Emerald City Comic Con.  My questions and his replies are below.  CAVEAT:  If you haven't read The Desert Prince yet, you may encounter some spoilers in the last question and answer.


Peter, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview for RobinHobb.com. As a fellow writer and a long-time reader of your work, I've come up with some questions for you.

On March 5th of 2024, The Hidden Queen will be released by Del Rey Books.  This is the second book in the Nightfall Saga, following The Desert Prince.  It will join previous books set in this world.  The books of The Demon Cycle are The Warded Man, The Desert Spear, The Daylight War, the Skull Throne and the Core.


A central premise to the Warded Man was that demons had entered the world and humans were especially vulnerable at nightfall, unless they had the protections of wards, glyphs created to repel the demons.  Can you recall how this unique concept for magic first came to you?


One of the first fantasy books I ever read was The Elfstones of Shannara, by Terry Brooks. In that story, demons had been banished from the world for thousands of years. So long that people had forgotten them, save as stories of myth and legend, and none were prepared when they returned. I knew then, when I was only 13, that I wanted to be a writer, and to tell a story about demons returning to a world that wasn't ready.


The world of the Demon Cylce and Nightfall Saga books was once as populous and technologically advanced as our own, before the demons returned and with dark intelligence guiding them, destroyed the infrastructure and burned the libraries, hunting humanity nearly to extinction. The books open 300 years after The Return, when the few remaining people huddle inside walled cities at night, and the world at large belongs to the demons until the rising sun banishes them for another day.


I wanted the books to begin with very little magic, so any reader—even one unfamiliar with the fantasy genre—could pick up the first book and follow along. More, I wanted a magic that could be accessed, as all real things are, by hard work, creativity, and practice, rather than some inherited trait only a few can possess. Complex magical symbology is something all cultures—even those that evolved independently of each other—have in common.


The only magic in my world radiates from the planet's core like heat, flowing upward until it reaches the surface and is burned away by the sun. But at night, it flows along the ground like fog, attracted to life, for indeed, all living things have a spark of magic in them. Those denizens of the dark beneath the surface are suffused with the power, and evolved to store and use it in various ways.


Demons are all but immortal, nearly impossible to harm with conventional weapons, and quick to heal anything short of a killing blow. When the story opens, the only way to protect against them is with magical symbols called wards, which can Draw and repurpose magic to repel demons in much the way a cross repels a vampire.


The story begins with three children—Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer—all from separate, isolated communities, who have the course of their lives changed by demon encounters that leave them scarred and haunted. These three begin to learn, along with the reader, that there are other ways to resist the demons. Lost wards, the science of the old world, and music. With their help, humanity begins to claw its way back from the brink of extinction to become strong again.



Some of the characters in The Nightfall Saga also appeared in The Demon Cycle books, notably Darin Bales, son of Arlen Bales.  Darin steps onto the stage as the narrator in this book.  Was it difficult to shift to his point of view?


Neurodiversity runs in my family like the Force runs through the Skywalkers, and in some ways The Hidden Queen is my love letter to those on the autism spectrum who have to work that much harder to keep in sync with the world around them and live their best lives. I thought it would be difficult to write about Darin's struggles, but after a lifetime surrounded by loved ones with similar challenges (and some of my own), I found it surprisingly easy and natural. The most difficult part was the shift from third person to first person perspective in my storytelling.

Darin Bales was born in the final pages of the original series, and I always knew he would have a special story to tell. His parents earned their magic with hard work and sacrifice, but Darin absorbed it in the womb. He was born with some of their powers, but without the ability of his parents to control them. Darin possesses hypersenses capable of feeding him vast amounts of information—often more than he can process. He is capable of things others around him are not, but unable to regulate the flow of information. He struggles with everything from simple conversations, walking through a crowded room, or the chaos of combat.


Darin has to work hard just to get through a normal day, but when his mother is taken from him, what can he do but brave all the world's dangers to try and save her?


A more general question:  Do readers need to read any or all of the previous books, or do you feel they can jump into your world with Hidden Queen?


One of the biggest struggles in writing a long series of books set in the same world is the baggage that accrues, not just with the main characters, but all the supporting cast as well. It can be hard when characters gather to remember all their points of view and relationships. Who killed whose father, who had an affair with whom, etc.


I work hard to thread each book with everything a reader needs to know, whether they are a longtime fan who has waited years for the next book and might not remember all the details, or a new reader picking one up for the first time. Readers could begin with The Hidden Queen, but I would recommend starting with the previous book, The Desert Prince, book 1 of the Nightfall Saga. Everything a reader needs to move forward with the story is included in each book, though there are of course spoilers for what has gone before. Many new readers have first come to my work through the Nightfall books, only to go back and read the adventures of the previous generation in The Demon Cycle, which is complete and binge-ready at 5 books.


Most readers of your previous books may know that you wrote The Warded Man on your phone as you commuted to your 'real' job. That seems absolutely incredible to me. How long did it take to write that first book?


As with all things, this depends on one's point of view. I wrote a version of the opening chapter to The Warded Man in 1999 when I was taking Marvin Kaye's fantasy writing class at NYU, and my agent took the book to market in 2006, so I was thinking about the world and story for seven years, but that little story languished in a drawer for years while I honed my craft on other projects. Most of the writing happened over the course of 2005. I had a literary agent—Joshua Bilmes of JABberwocky Literary Agency—interested in the work, but he was not sparing in his criticism of the first draft (and he was right).


I threw away perhaps 60% of my original draft, and needed to rewrite the story from the ground up. But I had a day job and a girlfriend, friends, a busy life. There wasn't a lot of free time for writing. This was a chance for something I'd always dreamed about, and so I made a sacrifice to the writing gods, trading my personal reading time on my daily commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan for writing.


This was in the early days of "smart" phones, but I had what at the time was state of the art, an HP iPaq 6515. It ran a pared down version of Microsoft word that I could sync with my desktop computer when the device was docked. I broke the story into individual chapters (all the phone's processor could handle) and would steal any open seat I could find on the NYC subway, putting in headphones and writing.


Writers, myself included, tend to create special spaces and conditions to work in, feeling like we need bespoke surroundings to access that personal creative magic we need to do our work. This lifestyle broke me of that illusion, and reminded me that with practice and conditioning, we can train ourselve to be creative on command. I would write ~300 words on the commute to work, and ~300 on the way home, then sync the story back to my computer, correct all the thumb typos, and add another ~400 words, so I was averaging 1000 words a day. I did this five days a week for a year before I had a completed manuscript that I handed back to my agent in mid-2006. I was drained, but proud of my perseverance. I prayed he would like it, and knew if he did not, I might decide that writing just wasn't my calling.


Instead, the book had multiple offers from US publishers within weeks, and within months had international sales that guaranteed me an income close to what I was making at my day job. I knew this was an atypical experience for authors, and didn't want the opportunity to slip away. I crunched the numbers carefully and decided I could responsibly take a leap of faith and quit a day job I never liked for a chance at writing full time. I gave myself two years, figuring if it didn't work out, I could always get another job I didn't like. Jobs you don't like are easy to get.

That was 17 years ago, and I am proud to say things are still going strong.


You will be doing an extensive book tour to meet your readers for The Hidden Queen.  Can you give us a quick summary of your itinerary and where readers can catch up with you?


I will be visiting various cities in the US and UK in March 2024, followed by conventions in Croatia, Poland, and France, various ComicCons in the US, and likely a forthcoming tour in Germany. The full list of appearances, updated as new events are confirmed, can be found at www.petervbrett.com/appearances. I also wrote a long post for the curious with information on what my events tend to be like: https://www.petervbrett.com/2024/01/25/book-tour/


What's next for you as a writer?  Does The Hidden Queen finish the story for Darin Bales and Olive, or is there more to come?


There will be one more book in The Nightfall Saga, The Demon King, which I have already outlined fully and begun writing. After that, I will have a standalone novel set in a new world that is already 70% complete and I am looking forward to sharing with the world. What follows that will depend on where the creative winds take me.


The standard writer question:  What's your process?  Do you outline or simply leap into the tale and start writing?


I outline everything. Possibly to an obsessive degree. Certainly more than other writers I know. Before I begin even the first line of prose, I usually have 80-100 pages of outline, breaking the story down to the chapter and even scene level, working out all the plot and story problems so that when I begin the prose, my focus is on making the language beautiful and how the characters feel about the series of events I already know will happen.


There are of course countless places to be creative even within that structure, and the occasional moments when inspiration strikes and I alter the outline, but for the most part, the final books tend to follow the original outline quite closely.


I'm aware that you do extensive research for your books.  What was the most fascinating thing you discovered in the writing of The Hidden Queen?


Hahaha! One of the best parts of writing fantasy is that I get to make things up without being bound to history (or sometimes even laws of physics). My research as a result tends to be small things, little research wormholes I fall into while writing specifc scenes. How far can a horse ride in a day? Do spiders have teeth? How do various poisons really affect the body? Sometimes I worry my internet search history has me on a law enforcement watchlist as a potential serial killer. I expect many writers feel the same.


And a final question: what is the one question you've always hoped an interviewer would ask you?


I like to tackle hard questions in my stories, offering the reader levels of remove, in part by fiction itself, and in part by using a made-up world with made-up cultures and people that nevertheless have all the same problems that we face in the real world.


While I've talked extensively about the Demon Cycle books over the years, The Desert Prince, the first book of the Nightfall Saga, was released during the pandemic when store shopping was greatly reduced, and in-person events were all canceled.


In much the same way The Hidden Queen is a story about autism, The Desert Prince is a story about gender. What it means to someone personally, what it says to the people around them, and what the world tries to impose on them because of it. Like Darin, Olive Paper was affected in vitro by the magic of her parents. Beginning as fraternal twins of different gender, the charge of power joined them into a single person with the attributes of both. Olive can both father and bear children, with an androgynous appearance, especially when paired with clothes or other markers we use to denote gender. Raised female after a prophecy foretold a short life if raised male, the story brings Olive to a place where she is required to live as a man for an extended time, and gives her—and the reader—a chance to explore what that means, and who truly she wants to be.


Peter, thanks so much for taking the time to chat during a very busy and extended book tour!


If readers want to know more about when and where you will be signing, please do visit PeterVBrett.com   



Post a comment