My Favorite Bit: Kay Kenyon talks about AT THE TABLE OF WOLVES
Kay Kenyon is joining us today with her novel At the Table of Wolves. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy meets X-Men in a classic British espionage story. A young woman must go undercover and use her superpowers to discover a secret Nazi plot and stop an invasion of England.
In 1936, there are paranormal abilities that have slowly seeped into the world, brought to the surface by the suffering of the Great War. The research to weaponize these abilities in England has lagged behind Germany, but now it’s underway at an ultra-secret site called Monkton Hall.
Kim Tavistock, a woman with the talent of the spill—drawing out truths that people most wish to hide—is among the test subjects at the facility. When she wins the confidence of caseworker Owen Cherwell, she is recruited to a mission to expose the head of Monkton Hall—who is believed to be a German spy.
As she infiltrates the upper-crust circles of some of England’s fascist sympathizers, she encounters dangerous opponents, including the charismatic Nazi officer Erich von Ritter, and discovers a plan to invade England. No one believes an invasion of the island nation is possible, not Whitehall, not even England’s Secret Intelligence Service. Unfortunately, they are wrong, and only one woman, without connections or training, wielding her talent of the spill and her gift for espionage, can stop it.
What’s Kay’s favorite bit?
Kim Tavistock is on an undercover mission to find a spy among the English gentry. She is a guest at a grand English home along with a handsome German, supposedly a businessman, Erich von Ritter.
In this scene, Kim Tavistock, an animal lover, has rushed out into a rain storm to retrieve two puppies who bolted from the house. The maid will be blamed, but their escape was really Kim’s fault. The puppies belong to Georgi, her unpleasant hostess for the weekend. Kim and von Ritter have looked for the puppies in a gazebo on a spit in the river near the house. Now they are stranded by the rising water.
One of the things they discuss is how the recent outbreak of paranormal abilities–called the bloom–will affect world affairs. During this scene, Kim hears from von Ritter a strange word: chorister, that becomes her first clue to an operation that threatens England.
I love this scene because it is the first time that Kim is alone with the man who will become her adversary, an elegant and charismatic German spy. The scene foreshadows their future relationship: fraught with tension and tinged with attraction despite their opposition and the stakes of the game.
“We can wade across,” Kim said.
Von Ritter shook his head. “No. The river is too fast. It is rising even as speak.” The spit was a torrent, a second arm of the river.
“I suggest we wait it out,” he said. “The river was to crest this morning. Give it an hour.” He reached into the pocket of his suit and retrieved a cigarette case. He snapped it open, and offered her one.
Using his lighter, he lit her cigarette, then his own. “I am afraid Georgi is forming up a firing squad. Your maid is done for.”
She inhaled the smoke with a rush of pleasure. “But the puppies will come home full of mud, having had an adventure.”
“All the worse, if they had fun,” he said, smiling.
“I suppose you’re right.” Clotted fog rolled down the river, enclosing them in whiteness. “It’s freezing out here.”
“Take my coat.” He unbelted his trench coat.
“You’ll be cold,” she protested but, cigarette dangling from her lips, she shrugged into the trench coat. As they sat on the bench, Von Ritter draped the slicker over both of them, and with his arm around her shoulders, warmth returned. She was acutely aware of their shoulders touching, the intimacy of the shared garment.
They smoked, listening to the river rushing by. Von Ritter seemed content to enjoy his cigarette. But silence was against her purpose.
“How do you happen to know Georgi?” Kim asked.
“We met in Bonn when she was on holiday and by chance we were both on the same train down the Rhone Gorge.” He turned to regard her. “Are you warm enough? Here, come closer, or we will never make it to luncheon.”
“I thought you said one hour,” she chided, but sidled in to him. Heat radiated beneath the rain coat, but whether it came from him or was a flush of her own, she could not tell.
He went on, “Georgi has the German viewpoint. Very forward-thinking, unlike some of your countrymen.”
“I can’t pretend to agree.”
“No, I should not like you to pretend.”
“Is the water rising?” she asked, trying to see the spit through the gazebo door.
“I cannot tell from here. I would have to get up from our snug nest to see,” he said good-naturedly.
From far in the distance, someone was calling for the dogs.
After a few minutes, Kim ventured, “There may be a war. Your country and mine.”
“It need not come to that.” He adjusted his arm around her shoulder. “Lean in to me. For warmth. It does no harm until we are enemies.”
It was only sharing a rain slicker in a storm, and even if he was a Nazi, he could hardly be motivated to throw her in the river.
“We do not need a war of arms. It is rather a war of ideas,” he said. “We are on the eve of a great change, Miss Tavistock. The bloom. It has changed everything. It is a new regime, hovering so close we do not think to look up to see it envelop us.”
The rain crackled on the gazebo roof, streaming down off the eaves. “We don’t know what it will really mean for any of us,” she said.
“It means that great men will rise.”
“It means that great leaders will become prophets of change. We have such a man in Germany.” He glanced sideways at her. “Whatever you may think of us.” He flicked his cigarette into the river. “In this country you have no great men. Churchill is a nineteenth century throwback, still yearning for empire. The bloom has brought us to a new level. Men of high Talent who direct destinies. Choristers, if you will.”
He paused as a gust of wind brought a torrent of staccato pattering on the roof. “A figure of speech.”
“Such an interesting word.”
“Yes, as though we’re all singing the same song.” She added, trying for an ironic tone, “Deutschland Uber Alles.”
“Perhaps. But a chorister will bring you down.”
She had not heard the word before, and thought that perhaps he had used the wrong English word. “Do you mean Hitler? He is a chorister?”
“No. One of your own,” he said.
He stared at the river. “I did not think you were so interested in politics, Miss Tavistock.”
“Well, I’m interested in most things.”
“Ah, the reporter. Saving animals. It is all very noble.” He separated from their embrace to turn to look her at her. “You would have made a good German.”
She met his dark gaze, wanting to appear friendly, but not in a way that would arouse suspicion. “I think not.”
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Kay Kenyon is the author of thirteen science fiction and fantasy novels as well as numerous short stories. Her work has been shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick, Endeavour, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and twice for the American Library Association Reading List awards. Her latest work, from Saga Press, is At the Table of Wolves. Publishers Weekly called it “A superb adventure, worthy to launch a distinguished historical fantasy series.” Book 2 in the Dark Talents novels, Serpent in the Heather, will be published in April, 2018. The audio edition will be out on August 15. Kay is a founding member of the Write on the River conference in Wenatchee, WA where she lives with her husband Tom and her tabby cat, Winston.