For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been hitting the books and doing a lot of thinking, working out outlines, story concepts and characters. Not to mention re-reading Harold Lamb, which is always a pleasure – I’m about halfway through ‘Grand Cham’ right now, one of my favourites. Ultimately, I’ve evolved a series of character concepts for open-ended series of standalone novels. Not quite what I originally had in mind, but the key here is ‘standalone’. No extended ten-book epic sagas – I’ve done that before, and part of this is to test my conviction that we’re moving away from the series concept. Though giving a distinct ‘brand’ to a collection of books remains, of course, a good idea. Right now, I’ve got a selection of concepts in mind, each of which could easily sustain sequel novels.
The first is set right at the start of the Crusading period, in 1110, and features a Norman knight and a Viking warrior – yes, you heard me right. This series begins just after the capture of Sidon by the forces of King Sigund of Norway, who led what in all honestly looks a lot like a Viking raid on Outremer. (They sacked cities in Spain and Sardinia along the way – one Christian, one Muslim. Calling this a traditional Crusade is a bit of a stretch; I often think of this as the last of the great Viking expeditions.) Many of the warriors who fought with Sigund stayed behind, though there are few records of what happened to them – that’s an interesting historical gap to fill.
I know that this series starts with the fighting on the frontiers of the County of Edessa, in the middle of the turmoil taking place in that tenuous Crusader State – rival factions fighting for power while Turkish warlords attacked. That Edessa survived that period, lasted as long as it did, is something of a miracle. I intend this to be a ‘wandering’ series, with the general idea that the heroes will end up in Central Asia, in the great cities of the Silk Road, and if this sounds suspiciously like I’m trying for a Leiber-esque double-act, well, that’s because I am.
The second is set somewhat later, in 1170, and is my take on the ‘Van Rijn’ series of stories written by Poul Anderson. Yes, I know that they are science-fiction, and darned good science-fiction at that, but the concept of the ‘merchant prince and agent’ works very well. (With a few shades of Nero Wolfe, perhaps – I’m drawing from some wild and woolly places for this one!) The main character is a French troubadour, finding himself embroiled in the fighting between the Pisans and Genoese, working for a wealthy Pisan merchant based in Caesarea – with King Amalric’s attempts to conquer Egypt and the first moves of Saladin in the wings.
This one is much more intrigue-based, and I already have a few novels in this series plotted out – or perhaps I should say that I have a series of historical events to explore. The conflicts between Venice, Genoa and Pisa in Outremer are often underplayed, but it was primarily as a result of support from those city-states that the Crusaders could hold onto their lands as long as they did, and the influence of the Italian merchants grew stronger and stronger over the years. Why focus on Pisa? Well, I want to use Caesarea as ‘home base’, and that had a strong Pisan influence, and I think that city has been neglected a little in favour of Venice and Genoa over the years. Time for Pisa to have its day in the sun.
I have a few others in mind as well, though I have to confess that none is as well defined as these in my mind. One is set later, during the Barons’ Crusade, featuring a dispossessed noble struggling to reclaim his home from the Mamluks while protecting the widow of an old friend, under investigation by an avaricious Inquisitor seeking to see her estates and properties inherited by his brother. Another takes place in the early days of the Empire of Trebizond, right after the Fourth Crusade, focusing on the defence of that city from attack and the preservation of the outer limits of its Empire – I think this focuses on a mercenary soldier, a Saxon warrior perhaps formerly of the Varangian Guard, pledging his allegiance to the new Emperor. An early one is calling to me as well, set in Central Asia as early as the 9th Century, in the time of Ibn Fadlan, a nomad warrior selling his services to the petty nobles of the city states of the Silk Road.
It’s been tough to narrow it down, but I’m going to start with the first two stories – partly because they are singing to me at the moment, and partly because they will require somewhat less additional research than the others, at least at this stage – I’ve done more of the prep work with ‘Early Crusades’ in mind. (I do also want to cover the Mongols at some point, perhaps some of the later Crusades as well, but I don’t have any concrete ideas along these lines at present.) Both stories ‘go somewhere’ in terms of sequel novels – the first reaching deeper into Asia, the second continuing to mount the intrigue and delving into the disastrous aftermath of the final attacks on Egypt. That’s where I’m going to start, then, with two novels that ideally will be released together, on the same day. I’m pretty sure I’m going to write Norman and Viking (and there will be a better series name…) first, with the Caesarea series second, but I still want to release them together – in a future post I’ll put on my business hat and explain just why...