Kay Kenyon is joining us today to talk about the final book in her Dark Talents trilogy, Nest of the Monarch. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Kim Tavistock, undercover in Berlin as the wife of a British diplomat, uncovers a massive conspiracy that could change the course of the war—and she’s the only one in position to stop it in the electrifying conclusion to the Dark Talents series.
November, 1936. Kim Tavistock is in Berlin on her first Continental mission for SIS, the British intelligence service. Her cover: a sham marriage to a handsome, ambitious British consul. Kim makes the diplomatic party circuit with him, hobnobbing with Nazi officials, hoping for a spill that will unlock a secret operation called Monarch. Berlin is a glittering city celebrating Germany’s resurgence, but Nazi brutality darkens the lives of many. When Kim befriends Hannah Linz, a member of the Jewish resistance, she sets in motion events that will bring her into the center of a vast conspiracy.
Forging an alliance with Hannah and her partisans, Kim discovers the alarming purpose of Monarch: the creation of a company of enforcers with augmented Talents and strange appetites. Called the Progeny, they have begun to compel citizen obedience with physical and spiritual terror. Soon Kim is swept up in a race to stop the coming deployment of the Progeny into Europe. Aligned against her are forces she could never have foreseen, including the very intelligence service she loves; a Russian woman, the queen of all Talents, who fled the Bolsheviks in 1917; and the ruthless SS officer whose dominance and rare charisma may lead to Kim’s downfall. To stop Monarch and the subversion of Europe, she must do more than use her Talent, wits, and courage. She must step into the abyss of unbounded power, even to the point of annihilation. Does the human race have limits? Kim does not want to know the answer. But it is coming.
What’s Kay’s favorite bit?
In my career as a fantasy and science fiction author, I’ve never had the chance to write a caper scene. You know, one of those break-in-steal-the-jewels sequences where everything goes like clockwork–until all hell breaks loose.
What’s fun about caper scenes is the slow, methodical build-up, when the reader knows from experience that things will go wrong, but nevertheless really hopes they don’t. For a while everything looks golden. Then comes the turning point, the moment when the whole plan goes south, fast.
In my favorite bit, secret agent Kim Tavistock has broken into a Nazi-run sanatorium in the middle of the night to get photo evidence of human experimentation. She’s working with a German resistance group which provided her a nurse’s uniform and the keys to a secret ward where the subjects are kept. In this scene, they have executed an elaborate hoax to draw attention away from Kim’s break-in.
After entering the storied place known as “the fourth floor,” Kim is in a ward of comatose patients. Using a miniature camera, she photographs the unnatural-looking (and heavily sedated) patients who are restrained because sometimes the treatments they are undergoing lead to madness.
In the alternative history milieu of this trilogy, some people have psi-abilities. One comes into play in this scene, and that is the turning point.
“Nurse,” came a man’s voice. Kim froze. One of the patients was awake in a bed across the room. “Nurse.” More insistently.
So as not to cause him to call her more loudly, she approached.
A sign hung from the foot of the bed, displaying a word she couldn’t translate, and below that a clipboard on a chain.
“I know I should sleep,” the patient said with a modulated, deep voice. “But I cannot.”
She felt a pang of sympathy for him, knowing that his condition was fatal, and imagining the misery of ending it in this place.
His voice was wistful. “Do you ever try to sleep and fail?”
She hesitated to answer him. It would be best to leave now, but something about him gave her pause.
“I’m sure you know what I mean. But for us—” he looked around the room—“we prefer to sleep at different hours than others.”
He moved his body a few inches under the covers. “The straps hurt. I have sores. You could check if you don’t believe me.”
“I believe you,” she said. Why had she spoken? A trickle of sweat fell down the side of her rib cage.
“You aren’t like the others. I knew that when you first came in and started to take pictures.”
Time to leave. No one would hear him if he cried an alarm.
“Just loosen the strap around my hips one notch. The bruises, they hurt me so.”
She glanced down at the end of a leather strap dangling below the covers.
His eyes flickered with pain. Well, just a notch, then. She bent down and unbuckled the strap, slipping it into holes further down.
“What does the sign say?” She gestured to the end of his bed.
“Ah,” he said, nodding. “It is my condition. You know it, ja? You are a nurse.”
“No,” she said, sweat now pouring from her face. She folded the cape away from her shoulders.
“The sign says compulsion.” A long, flat smile carved across his face. “But we do not need to worry about that. This is a hospital.”
“We don’t need to worry,” she agreed.
“And perhaps the other straps? I know it is a great deal of trouble.” His voice was soft and even, like snow falling on a river and disappearing.
She fumbled with the buckles on his ankles. The straps were very tight and hard to unfasten, but she finally managed.
“Why not just take them all off?” he asked, reasonably enough. “Now that we have started, that is what we should do.”
In her dream-like state, Kim obeys. From here, things go very wrong. All the stealth, elegant planning, and misdirection go out the window as chaos erupts, terror descends, and even the SS guards are a welcome sight compared to what’s chasing Kim.
While I think the entire scene is very scary, it is also fun in a way that perhaps you have to be a little twisted to enjoy. Which I certainly did, in the writing, anyway!
Kay Kenyon is the author of fifteen science fiction and fantasy novels. Her work has been shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick and the John W. Campbell Memorial awards. Her trilogy, the Dark Talents novels (Nest of the Monarch is book three) has been called “Supremely entertaining” by Kirkus Reviews and “Riveting” by Publishers Weekly. Some of her short stories are gathered into a collection, Dystopia: Seven Dark and Hopeful Tales, available in eBook and paperback.