The Claiming of the Duke
What are your favorite books within books?
Since I’m a weirdo, The Necronomicon springs to mind. But there are other, less Cthulhian versions–The King in Yellow notwithstanding. Harry Potter has dozens of them. Frank Herbert’s Dune not only has pages of them, but references them liberally throughout the text.
Fictional books have always appealed to me, as much, almost as books of fiction. They are the mystery that can never be solved, they impact our heroes (and villains) without ever showing their faces.
They have great power.
I wanted one.
In The Sand Prince, my hero, the misfit demon prince Rhuun, finds just such a book–a marvelous story of the adventures of a human man and his friends and enemies on the other side of The Door, the mystical portal separating his own world of Eriis from the human lands of Mistra. The humans are a great mystery to the demons of Eriis as The Door has been locked in the wake of a disastrous war a generation past. Rhuun is something of a mystery as well, even to himself. He sees something in the human book that resonates with him, and he sees a strange echo of himself in the painting of the human man and woman on the cover of his book. He thinks it’s a blueprint, a documentary, a way of behaving in a world he’s desperate to visit.
Originally, the idea that a lurid, over the top romance novel would serve as my hero’s guide to the human world was a sort of joke. In an early draft, one of my writing group compatriots remarked that Rhuun said something that ‘sounded like it was out of a romance novel.’ Thank you, Matthew, you were right!
What if, I asked myself, the only thing Rhuun knows about the human world is what he read in this little book, without context? When he meets our heroine, a relatively modern human woman, how will she react when he calls her a ‘wench?’ (Pretty much as you’d expect.)
To create my book within a book, I first wrote the epigrams appearing at the beginning of each chapter set in Mistra and taken from the novel, The Claiming of the Duke. I wanted them to reflect and comment on the action in the chapter, and I made one more purple than the next.
Then, after The Sand Prince was published, I decided to try and write the whole book.
Since I had one character die twice, several murders, many heaving bosoms, and lots of fairly ridiculous dialogue, I had a lot of work to do back-fitting an actual plot with real characters into the twelve or so pages of text I’d already written. I invented a mysterious dead wife for my Duke, and figured out how to kill off that pesky character who meets his maker twice. (I have to confess, I became quite fond of the Duke, to my own surprise, since he’s sort of an alpha-jerk.)
I kept almost all (not quite all) of the original epigrams from The Sand Prince. We find out why Rhuun picks ‘Moth’ as his name in the human world; in fact the most fun I had was sprinkling references to both The Sand Prince and The Heron Prince into The Claiming of the Duke. If you’ve read those books you’ll easily find your way through the darkened hallways of the once-great, crumbling estate called Gardenhour. If not, welcome to Mistra and I hope you enjoy your introduction to my world within a world inside this book.