Robert V. S. Redick is joining us today to talk about his novel, Sidewinders. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Two brothers flee an army of fanatics across a vast and magical desert in this white-knuckle sequel to Master Assassins from Robert V.S. Redick, author of The Red Wolf Conspiracy.
The worst of rivals, the closest of friends, the two most wanted men in a war-torn world: Kandri and Mektu Hinjuman have cheated death so often it’s begun to feel like a way of life. But nothing has prepared them for the danger and enchantment of the Ravenous Lands. This sprawling, lethal desert is the brothers’ last hope, for they have killed the favorite son of Her Radiance the Prophet, and her death-priests and magical servants are hunting them day and night.
But there are dangers even within their caravan. Some of their fellow travelers worship the Prophet in secret. Others, including Mektu, have become obsessed with a bejeweled dagger that seems to afflict its owners with madness or death.
At stake is far more than the lives of two runaway soldiers. Kandri is carrying an encoded cure for the World Plague, a disease that has raged for centuries—while far from the desert, certain criminals have learned just how lucrative a plague can be. Are they using the Prophet, or being used by her? Who, in this game of shadows, can Kandri trust?
He knows one thing, however: they must reach Kasralys, great and beautiful fortress-city of the east. Only there can the precious cure be deciphered. Only there can Kandri seek word of the lover who vanished one night without a trace.
But Kasralys, never conquered in 3,000 years, is about to face its greatest siege in history.
What’s Robert’s favorite bit?
Robert V.S. Redick
So you want to know which of my children I love the most, right?
Like any good parent, my instinct is to dodge the question. When Ki Moon’s practicing the oboe, my favorite child is Rita. When Rita’s throwing toys at the wall before dawn on a Saturday, I’m partial to deep-sleeping Dan.
But a favorite story element from Sidewinders? How can I answer that? When I’m feeling salesman-slick, I call this book the literary family gothic desert road trip anti-war epic spy fantasy you’ve been looking for, and hope that no one notices the implicit confession. Yes, I have trouble with boundaries. You may find that this results in sweeping adventures, books of great generosity, books you’ll never forget. Or you may find that I’m a deranged cook combining rosemary, nutmeg, cardamom and hot chilies in a single dish. Guilty of both, I fear. I love Indian and Persian and Oaxacan cuisine—sharp, bracing flavors, dishes served in the open air on a breezy, dusty night. And I love the mad, rich elements of epic fantasy with all my naïve, fanatic heart.
Very well, a choice.
We’re deep in the desert. Unthinkably deep, and indescribably vulnerable. Fourteen souls who bicker and blame and come to blows, who make up and make out and regret it all the next morning. Family, that is, by blood or happenstance.
We’ve lost our caravan. We’re down to four camels and three days’ water. We’re being hunted by lunatic priests and a barefooted demon-child and some bloodthirsty wanderers who call themselves the Slaughterhouse Clowns. We were robbed in the night. The thieves took gold and trinkets, but also something of such importance to humanity that even the most selfish among us can’t pretend our own small lives matter much in comparison.
Have I forgotten anything? Ah, yes: our leader was devoured before our eyes by a huge chitinous creature that erupted from the sand. That was ten minutes ago.
Such are the circumstances just before my favorite scene in Sidewinders begins. I can’t deny that I love their awfulness. Suffering may or may not build character, as the Dads of yore contend. But suffering reveals character beyond all doubt. The fact that this desperate mess has resulted more from character choices than sheer bad luck is the icing on the cake.
I’m also in love with the setting. The leader’s death, and everything that follows for the next two days and nights, occurs upon a wall. A gargantuan ruin, this wall was a long-dead Emperor’s attempt to stop the desert’s advance into his heartland. Wrecked by time, breached and battered by dunes, it runs for hundreds of miles through the victorious desert, its crumbling towers home now only to animals and ghosts. But the wall has yet to fail entirely: on one side, the dunes rise and fall, sometimes cresting above the ramparts. On the other side is a three-hundred-foot drop into badlands. This, along with the interior spaces and the areas of total ruin, provided me a deliriously fun tactical playground for the action to come.
What occurs, then? Put simply, the chase scene of my dreams. I’ve mentioned the thieves, the mad priests, the Slaughterhouse Clowns. But I haven’t mentioned the mutineers from our heroes’ caravan, or the thousand-strong cavalry backing up the priests, or the rain of fireballs, or the little black cats that for some reason terrify the Clowns…
The scene’s well north of 100 pages. Five distinct parties are involved in this chase, which does not let up for some 50 hours. Each of those parties is ready to kill or die for what it wants from the party ahead, and no two parties want the same thing.
I’m tempted to add one more reason I love this chase, but the factor is common to all my scenes, long or short. I don’t, until they’re written, know how they will end. Honestly. Sure, I have my hunches, my unconscious intentions. But the workhorse in me, drafting the scene? He doesn’t know. He’s charging through his tasks, spooked by thunder, frightened of the coming night. That constant jolt of discovery is essential. Without it, nothing snaps in my writing, no scene comes to life. Which is to say: I didn’t plan this long, mad incident at the center of Sidewinders. I just wanted it, desperately, and ran and ran until I chased it down.
Robert V. S. Redick is the author of the Chathrand Voyage Quartet (The Red Wolf Conspiracy and sequels), among the most beloved and critically acclaimed epic fantasy series of recent years.
Redick is a former faculty member in the Stonecoast MFA program and an environmental justice consultant. He has lived and worked in Indonesia, Argentina, Colombia, and many other countries. Master Assassins (Talos Press, 2018), the first book in The Fire Sacraments trilogy, was a finalist for the European Booknest Award for Best Novel, and was featured on numerous Best of the Year lists.
Redick is currently a Visiting Professor with the University of Nevada, Reno’s MFA Program. He lives with his partner in Western Massachusetts.