With only a few weeks until The Last Adventure of Constance Verity I’ve been looking back at my previous novels and discussing what I like about them. Is it a bit self-indulgent? Perhaps, but they say nothing sells your frontlist like your backlist, so I’m selling my frontlist. Today, we’ll explore In the Company of Ogres, my second novel. If you’ve read it already, maybe you’ll enjoy my insights. If you haven’t, maybe this will convince you to give it a shot.
In the Company of Ogres is probably my novel that most often gets compared to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Both take place in a relatively traditional fantasy world with ogres and knights and magic. Both play with ideas and cliches of that genre. Both have humor. I’d say the biggest difference is that much of what Pratchett went on to write with the Discworld series was satire of our own society and culture, whereas Ogres sticks mostly to exploring fantasy tropes.
The word “satire” gets thrown around a lot. Along with “parody” and “farce”, and while for many people, the terms are seen as interchangeable, they aren’t meant to be. Satire is meant to deconstruct and dissect some issue of the real world through exaggeration. To be blunt, there’s really not much satire in Ogres. While its world and characters have elements in common with our own, they aren’t meant to be fantasy versions of real world problems. This isn’t a novel version of that Star Trek episode where there’s the black-and-white guys who are a metaphor for racism. Ogres is a fantasy novel about fantastic problems and how to deal with them.
As happens in most of my work, it’s sometimes mistaken for a parody, but that assumes I’m making fun of fantasy. I love fantasy. No story I’ve ever written has been intended to skewer fantasy in any major way. Yes, this is a point that will come up again and again as I talk about my work, and I’ll keep it short. Ogres isn’t out to make fantasy seem silly. Ogres is a fantasy with humor in it.
The convention that gets most tweaked in Ogres as the central theme is the idea of destiny. Or Destiny (with a capital D). I’ve never been fond of the trope that someone is destined for greatness, but this was the first book where I explored that particular crutch. Our hero, Never Dead Ned, is the typical unassuming loser who gets thrust unwillingly into a dangerous situation. He’s supposed to rise to the occasion, become a great leader, and perhaps show the world it was wrong to underestimate him.
As it turns out, the world was wrong, but it’s not Ned’s destiny to become the greatest hero in the world. Or even the greatest villain. Ned’s destiny is to be Ned.
Though it’s been nearly a decades since Ogres was originally published, I’m not sure how I feel about spoilers at this point. To play it safe, I’ll say that Ned has what I consider an anti-destiny. He isn’t meant to be amazing. He’s meant to be as uninteresting as possible. Yet even this ultimately ends up being a choice Ned has to make for himself. There are larger forces at work, directing him, but in the end, it’s Ned’s own decisions that decide his fate.
This theme is pretty essential to Constance Verity too, who wrestles with having adventure after adventure thrust upon her by forces beyond her ken. Yet it isn’t those forces that are solely responsible for who she is. Just like Ned, the things she can’t control don’t always have to define her.
Besides the themes of friendship and community that pop up in all my stories, the theme of what we do and don’t control and how we figure out hot to manage the unmanageable while holding onto ourselves is something that pops up often. Often, I don’t even plan it. It just sort of happens. Never Dead Ned might embody that question better than any character I’ve ever created.
But Ogres is more than Ned. It has a great cast and one of the largest I ever wrestled with. It was my chance to use all those fantasy monsters I love so much, and also, a chance to tweak them. Frank the very large ogre, Regina the Amazon, Miriam the siren, Gabel the orc, and a host of others show up and both play to and against expectations.
I’ll admit my favorite characters though are the goblins. Their reckless lust for life and devil-may-care attitude made them a hell of a lot of fun to write. Ace the roc pilot stays among my favorite characters, a strange mix of WW1 flying daredevil and dragon rider. The idea of this thirty pound goblin in charge of a ten ton monster always brings a smile to my face.
Ogres is probably “sillier” than Gil’s in a lot of small ways, but then again, maybe not. Both have their weird absurdities, and both accept those absurdities without feeling a need to justify it. It’s just the world these characters live in, and if you need a long-winded explanation for why, you’re probably going to be disappointed. I’ve always been less interested in worldbuilding than in characters and their struggles. It’s not that I don’t want the world to be consistent and appealing, but my focus will always be aimed at the characters rather than the place they happen to be standing.
There are no maps of Copper Citadel where Ogre Company dwells. There are no in-depth notes on orc culture or the breeding cycle of ogres. If you’re looking for a nuanced understanding of military tactics or chain of command, look elsewhere. This story is all about Ned and the strange cast around him because that’s what I think most stories should be about. I could be wrong, but as a friend of mine once remarked, “Tell me who this story is about and why I should give a damn.”
In the Company of Ogres is about Never Dead Ned and his struggle to make sense of an eternal life that seems to be going nowhere. It’s about love, hate, rivalries, and giant green birds that want to eat you. It’s about our desire for power and what we’re willing (and unwilling) to do to get it. It’s about a lot of things, but mostly it’s about doing the best you can in a weird world.
And that’s something we all have to deal with.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,