Miles Cameron is the author of The Red Knight, out now in the US. Published by Orbit Books, it is the first novel of The Traitor Son Cycle, merging epic fantasy with intricate plotting and scathing action. Nick Sharps was fortunate enough to discuss The Red Knight with Cameron. The following is an interview involving influences, POV’s, authenticity, film adaptations, and more.
Nick Sharps: Sell me The Red Knight in as few words as possible.
Miles Cameron: Excalibur vs. Alien.
NS: I hate to ask the obligatory “influences” question, but what drove the creation of the Red Knight as a character?
MC: The Red Knight’s character comes from two ‘streams.’ One is my own observation of young leaders—and the process by which they become leaders, whether on track teams or in street gangs. The other is the vast realms of the annals of history. Alexander the Great is in the Red Knight, and so is William Marshal, and so, in fact, are some fictional characters—D’Artagnan from Dumas and Francis Crawford from Dorothy Dunnett.
NS: The Red Knight features an extensive cast of POV’s. What do you find to be some of the benefits and detriments of this form of writing?
MC: The detriments first. No matter how good an author is, he loses focus and authenticity the more points of view he writes. Further, he loses the sheer appalling confusion that is ‘real life’ by allowing the reader to see every side of a puzzle. That said, The Red Knight is the introduction to a fairly complex world and a really, really labyrinthine plot, and only through dozens of POVs can the reader determine in a mere 650 pages that 1) neither side is good, nor evil, and 2) that the world does not really function in the way the main characters seem to think it does. That said, the single most fun benefit of multiple POVs is the ability the writer has to bring conflict and combat alive—to lift the veil and show both sides of a moment in a battle or even an argument. Another—very similar—benefit comes when you want to show a character as an unreliable narrator.
NS: You have a unique background that I feel lends a healthy dose of authenticity to your writing – even when it involves wyverns and trolls. Can you share what life experiences shape your work?
MC: Life experience… er… (slightly senile smile). Right. First and foremost, my work is influenced by my career as an officer in the U.S. Navy, where I did a great many things on a number of continents. One thing I did was to spend a few weeks working with the Kenya Wildlife Service, and those few weeks informed me more about ‘monsters’ and ‘the wild’ than anything else I can mention. Once you’ve seen a charging rhino—and mine stopped so far away from me that I couldn’t really explain to myself why I’d been so utterly terrified… once you have stood—alone—in the midst of three hundred elephants—it profoundly changes your sense of scale. I’ve also commanded troops in the field, and also taken orders—both good ones and bad ones. I’ve camped on four continents, in the ‘wild.’ I spend an inordinate amount of my time practicing and thinking about martial arts, and I’m equally fascinated by philosophy and theology. Which I also read about constantly. I fight in armour as often as I’m allowed…
NS: Choose one character from fantasy that you believe the Red Knight could best in pitched combat, and one character he could not.
MC: That’s really a very subtle question. Who do I believe the Red Knight could best? Well, given the remarkable combination of highly-trained martial abilities and a growing hermetical skill, I’d say that he would have an easy time with any number of mainstream heroes—Conan, for example. Better armour and far better training—and the ability to use magic? Yet, in a broader sense, the Red Knight is constrained by code and circumstance, so if this is a tournament, let us say, he better not use magic or his name will be mud. Without hermetical skills, he’s on par with—well, D’Artagnan. He still has a great deal to learn, but he’s come up in a hard school. A ‘real’ school. So for example, if he had to face Conan (I like Conan) in a tournament, he’d probably spend a very long time staying away from the other man’s superior strength. Wearing him down with hand cuts. Stuff hardly ever done in a fantasy novel. He’d lose to a better knight—Sir Lancelot, for example would unhorse him in one pass. But not, perhaps, be able to beat him in a battle or armies. He’s—subtle. But—may I say—he’s also human and capable of stupid error and so on, so while I believe he could best some characters, he might just slip and fall. He’s not—hmm. He’s not guaranteed to win. Not destined or fated. On any given Sunday, he might just—lose!
NS: Say The Red Knight gets picked up by a major film studio for a movie adaptation – who would you choose to direct it? Who stars in the film?
MC: I like this question. I think I’d like to have Ridley Scott direct it, because to me, he has the best eye for a big battle—and for what I might call ‘chivalric motivation.’ I offer the movie Gladiator as my evidence. Who stars? I’d like Cate Blanchett as the Abbess. But only because Olivia Dukakis is now 81. And I’d like Russell Crowe to be the voice of Thorn. Bad Tom—I’d like to make sure is someone really big, and really scary. Not Hollywood scary. The rest, including the Red Knight—I’d like them cast from young actors we don’t know.
NS: The Traitor Son Cycle has the makings of a truly epic fantasy series and The Red Knight sets the stage for great things to come. What can you tell us of the sequels?
MC: Book Two—already complete—is so far titled ‘The Fell Sword.’ A fell sword, in my world, is an item that can function in the real and in the aethereal, too. Such items are very rare and require—hmm—serious mojo to produce. In the ‘Fell Sword’ the Red Knight and his company go across the mountains to the Morea and Thrake—those are the kingdoms to the east of Alba—to put down what appears to be a local rebellion and proves to be larger. In the process, the readers will get to see a little more of the meta-plot. The Red Knight will meet a beautiful princess. Jean de Vrailly will grow in power and worldly glory. Amicia will develop her own power while getting into a quarrel with the church that will have long term effects for everyone. Readers will meet the Faery Knight and the irks are developed as people and not ‘enemies’. The sides shift, and the stakes grow. You know—epic fantasy stuff.
In book three which I have tentatively titled ‘The Tournament of Fools’ we’ll see—you guessed it—a tournament. And the tournament will explode into a war. And the sides in the war will have been determined by the first two books, and yet, will, I think, surprise some readers. Personal relationships—like love—will cause characters to act against their own self-interests. Like real life—only with armour.
NS: And now on to the most important question of all. If The Red Knight were a flavor of ice cream what would it be?
MC: Maple Walnut. Why? First, it’s my favorite flavor. Second, it has a nice North American sound to it. Third, it’s solid, but sweet. But crunchy. But–smooth.
Of course, I like a nice lemon ice, too.
NS: Any final words for potential readers?
MC: I’ve been surprised (and pleased!) by the sheer amount of reader reaction, so the one set of words for potential readers is—it’s complicated. What may SEEM simple—like, for example, Christianity, or the juxtaposition of the sides—is not really simple. Even the way in which magic functions—isn’t all the way it appears. With that said—it’s really all about chivalry. I love chivalry. My world of chivalry just has a lot of context!
NS: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I for one, eagerly await the next novel in The Traitor Son Cycle. Anyone that considers themselves a fan of fantasy needs to check out The Red Knight.