Nancy Jane Moore is joining us today to talk about her novel, For the Good of the Realm. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Anna d’Gart is both skilled with the sword and shrewd (not to mention discreet), a rare combination among the hot-tempered and rowdy Guards serving the King, Queen, and Hierofante, which is why she’s always the Queen’s first choice for carrying out sensitive assignments. Discovering that someone powerful is using magic to damage the Queen, Anna is plunged into political intrigue and a series of tough decisions. No fan of the uncanny, she’s forced to enlist the assistance of a witch—whose magical practices are strictly prohibited in the Realm and condemned by the Church.
With the aid of her flirtatious friend and fellow Guardswoman Asamir and their friends Roland de Barthes and Jean-Paul of the King’s Guard, Anna repeatedly matches wits with an opponent too powerful to be named. Intent on preventing war, preserving the Realm, and protecting the Queen despite the risks to herself and her fears about the ancient way of magic, Anna deploys all the means at her disposal—espionage, diplomacy, her sword, a powerful witch, and, of course, indomitable bravery.
What’s Nancy’s favorite bit?
NANCY JANE MOORE
One of the joys of writing a story in which swordswomen play a major role is that you get to write a lot of fight scenes. For the Good of the Realm has a number of them, some serious, several played for laughs. But one particular fight scene stands out for me for reasons that go beyond the story.
In this scene, Anna and Asamir, both of the Queen’s Guard, have discovered that their friends Roland and Jean-Paul of the King’s Guard have been captured by three men. They decide to rescue them. The story is told from Anna’s point of view:
Anna heard rustling in the bushes just beyond her tree. One of the men with the pistols turned toward it. Knowing that Asamir would not have made noise without a purpose, Anna leapt down behind the other armed man, knife in hand, and had the blade at his throat before he could respond. The man who had moved at the noise wheeled back and fired toward Jean-Paul, who was closest to him.
But while Jean-Paul was often a fool with words, he was never at a loss when it came to action. He had moved when the man turned, diving for his knees. The bullet went into the empty air where Jean-Paul had been, and the tackle caused the man to fall hard to the ground, hitting his head on a rock. Asamir leaped over him, sword in hand, heading for the man holding the horses. He dropped the reins, drew his own blade, and rushed toward her with his sword extended. Just as he reached her, she stepped easily to the side, slicing his wrist from underneath. He dropped his sword and grabbed his bleeding wrist, howling in pain.
Roland, who had not moved, said, “I believe you are right. There is no reason to trouble any magistrates on anyone’s behalf.”
What I love about this scene is how well the four of them work together in this fight. While they do not often fight together – indeed sometimes fight against each other – they are all very good fighters and, more importantly, quite aware that they can trust the others to respond appropriately.
Anna acts immediately to capture one of the enemy when she hears Asamir rustle bushes, because she knows Asamir would not be careless in her approach. Jean-Paul also acts immediately, because while he does not know that a rescue is under way, he knows that the man holding a gun on him is distracted, and he takes advantage of that. Roland stands still and allows the others to do their jobs because he can tell he doesn’t need to do anything.
Now of course, the advantage of a fight scene in a story over one in real life is that the author gets to make it come out any way they want it to. Real life fight scenes are often very messy and I could have written a messy one here.
But I wanted to focus on the fact that all of these key characters are very competent fighters and soldiers. They know how to respond effectively in a situation without getting in each other’s way.
In our ordinary lives, we see this kind of physical competence most often in sports. In a double play in baseball, the shortstop might scoop up a grounder and throw the ball immediately to the second baseman, who steps on the base, forcing out the runner coming from first, and then throws to first base before the batter gets there. In this situation, as in my fight scene, the players count on their teammates to be in the right place to catch the ball.
I have a deep love for this kind of physical competence because it includes not just knowing how to do the moves required by the activity, but knowing the other people involved and what you can count on them to do. It’s a complex set of skills and it’s always a joy to watch in action.
This particular scene in the book is also fun because it provides a contrast to how these same characters act when they are fencing with words rather than their swords. Jean-Paul is notorious for saying things that make the situation worse. Just before the rescue, in fact, he does just that. The attackers, who claim to be troops for the governor of the region, refuse to believe that Jean-Paul and Roland are members of the King’s Guard. They point out they have not been told that any guardsmen will be coming through their region.
“Perhaps no one thought you important enough to be told,” Jean-Paul said.
In other sections of the book, Asamir is quick to put her hand on the hilt of her sword when she thinks she’s been insulted, something that can turn an argument into something bloodier. Both Anna and Roland do much better jobs of keeping their tempers and measuring their words in tight fixes.
Fight scenes are fun, but resolving conflicts without bloodshed is more useful in most cases. Over the course of the book, Anna fights as well with words as she does with a sword. In fact, perhaps my real favorite bit from this book is that Anna often finds herself in dangerous or fraught situations that cannot be resolved with a sword. She’s a fine warrior, but she has figured out that a blade can’t solve all problems. That is particularly important when she’s dealing with witches.
Did I mention the witches? I’m fond of that bit, too.
Nancy Jane Moore is the author of the fantasy novel For the Good of the Realm and the Locus-recommended science fiction novel The Weave, both published by Seattle’s Aqueduct Press. Her other books include the novella Changeling and the collection Conscientious Inconsistencies. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and in magazines ranging from the National Law Journal to Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. In addition to writing, she holds a fourth degree black belt in Aikido and teaches empowerment self defense. A native Texan who spent many years in Washington, D.C., she now lives in Oakland, California, with her sweetheart, two cats, and an ever-growing murder of crows.