Bitterdark could be considered the “end of the middle” of a larger story about the faeries and the Bitterdark. How did you decide to tell this part of the story in particular?
The long history of the Bitterdark and the Alwaystar feels to me like a cake: wide layers, complex and dark, whole strata of events–but the secret allure is the rich band of sweetness that holds the layers together. A hundred years of war might pass in sameness, until dark plans blossom in a single night and the course of history is changed forever. This is one of those nights. Before this night the war had a particular character; going forward, that character has fundamentally changed. Yesterday, Aelyn and Mizein and Baza were one thing; tomorrow they’re another thing entirely. This is a moment of utter transformation.
What was it about the Bitterdark that allowed them to be defeated by Aelyn and the faeries but still be clever enough to use Baza against Aelyn later?
The genius of the Bitterdark lies in concealment. They hide. They find cracks and shadows and burrow themselves away from sight and notice, and they wait. They always wait. Aelyn used his vast talent to win against them–or so he believed. The Bitterdark saw their defeat and fled into cracks and crannies; they planted a seed in the world across the river. In a sense, they needed their defeat at Aelyn’s hands to engineer their rise back to power. They needed Aelyn so secure in his victory that their seed would have time to germinate.
Mizein sets this story in motion by coming to see Aelyn. After this story is over, how do you think she will understand and take responsibility for her role in Aelyn’s fate and the faeries fate in the battle against the Bitterdark?
Mizein! Poor Mizein. . .the teenage daughter of a genius, wearing a crown that history’s made more than a few sizes too big for her. Oh, she hates that father of hers. . . and she adores him, of course, which she’ll come to realize sooner or later. She also loves him as a king, because Aelyn is a genius, and Aelyn is a hero, and Aelyn did save their people from the horror that enslaved them. Mizein has a lot to learn. The problem, of course, is that Aelyn is a particular sort of powerful. Mizein may have inherited his talent, but she needs centuries of practice. If she and her advisors could have defeated the Bitterdark without him, she never would have come to him on the farm. “Bitter” and “dark”–Mizein’s mood when she’s reduced to go begging to her runaway father! After the events of the story, of course, the Bitterdark won’t be talking about where Aelyn is. Mizein will conclude he’s run away again–and that’s precisely what the Bitterdark want the queen of Alwaystar to believe. They want her weakened and wondering. Will she waste time and resources searching for him, for the one weapon she knows can succeed against them? Will bitterness at his betrayal overwhelm her with despair? Or will his abandonment force her to find her own unique strengths? It could go either way; Mizein, too, stands on the edge of transformation. One thing’s certain, though: Mizein is, through and through, a queen.
Can we look forward to reading more about the battle between the faeries and the Bitterdark?
There are stories whispering at me. Baza’s human family, for one: Were they aware of the changeling they raised? Or were they even human at all? Also, it seems unlikely that Baza was the only seed planted by the Bitterdark. And on the other side, in Faerie, Mizein, yes. . . how will she handle the war now that the Bitterdark will rise again? Will she go into hiding? Into training? And what about the old guard, fey like Old Mok the coachdog who’ve lived through war and peace and now war again? How will they express their loyalties? And Aelyn himself: it takes a long age to unmake a faerie king, and in that long age, there are more creatures walking roads of power than just the Bitterdark. If questions like those keep nagging at me, I imagine they’ll eventually have to be answered!
Would you like to tell us anything else?
Only thank you! It’s been a pleasure spending time in Fantasy Magazine. And of course. . . Happy Halloween!