One question that turns up a lot, from readers and in interviews, is “Which characters are your favourites to write?” And of course I love all my insect-kinden children, even the ones I brutally kill off seconds after you meet them, but it’s true there are a few who are an especial joy to write for. And ‘write for’ is the right phrase. Once a character is established, then writing a scene with them in is like working with an actor of long acquaintance. You know them, their strengths, their style. It becomes easy to make them look good.
Here is the pick, then, of the characters who have been the most fun for me to work with. But warning – Spoilers from hereon in.
Ah Thalric. Thalric has been fun to write from the start. The man of duty who betrays, and is betrayed, so many times that even he forgets whose side he’s meant to be on. A murderer, secret policeman, spy, torturer even: and these are his activities before his fall from grace. That is Thalric at his straight-laced Imperial best. It’s only after everything goes to crap for him, and he falls foul of the Rekef’s internecine struggles, that he discovers a wider world, both inside and outside. One part Sharpe to three parts Avon, a constant source of carping criticism on any subject you care to name, and willing to stand up to generals and great magicians – anyone in fact except the Empress. Best moments: The Scarab Path is Thalric’s book almost as much as it is Che and Totho’s, but his showdown with General Reiner in Salute the Dark was a favourite too.
The Mosquito-kinden, Uctebri the Sarcad: vampiric, treacherous (something of a theme here), and ambitious enough to conceive a plan to rule the world through a puppet Emperor. What’s not to like? Actually Uctebri is fun mostly when he’s playing his double-act with Seda. The relationship between them starts off as mad magician and damsel in distress, and then shades into something closer to an equal partnership as she learns from him. His influence on her is in toughening her up – taking her out of her brother’s shadow. Hers on him is to hold a mirror up to him. Seda makes Uctebri see himself through her eyes. She makes him self-conscious, aware of his age and his nature. Best moments: his spirit-meeting with Achaeos in Blood of the Mantis; his explanation of magic (the most precise in the series, and one that is very relevant for the ongoing series) for Seda in Salute the Dark.
We do seem to be having a run on villains? Is Drephos a villain? Yes, to be honest, he really is. But he’s not in the same box as Uctebri. Drephos, prima donna engineer, the highest-ranging halfbreed in the Empire, bona fide genius, and a man for whom such notions as genocide hold no sting. And yet, at the same time, Drephos the equal opportunities employer, heedless of heritage or gender so long as you can keep up with him. Drephos, who is an inspiring father figure for Totho – indeed who shows Totho more kindness than his other mentor, Stenwold Maker, who cannot quite get past the miscegenation problem. Drephos shines most when he’s contrasted with Totho, and through the series the two of them change each other, growing closer as the world puts pressure on them. Best moment: without a shadow of a doubt the conversations between Drephos and Totho in Salute the Dark, where Drephos puts such a case together, in support of mass murder, that I could give Totho no good arguments in response.
Straessa and Gorenn
Straessa the Antspider has a very sharp and defined character arc, from a troublemaker who is happy to cheat at the Prowess Forum through to a volunteer officer in Collegium’s military. Castre Gorenn is a renegade Dragonfly archer come to fight the Wasps on behalf of Collegium. When do the two become a double act? It develops in War Master’s Gate, where Gorenn turns from Comedy Inapt to sheer dynamite as the war gets nastier, but the big moments for the two of them are still to come in Seal of the Worm. Obviously that limits what I can say, but it’s the combination of Straessa’s Apt pragmatism, and Gorenn’s Inapt (and at times completely mad) idealism that’s the spark.
Sartaea te Mosca, Fly lecturer in Inapt studies, made my previous list as well, so I won’t say too much about her here. The fun with her is that, no matter what, she is meticulously polite. She grew up amongst Moths who spent their time looking down on her physically and magically, and her defence to that – and against the world in general – is to behave with rigid decorum, ploughing her diminutive way through the trials of life behind a shield of good manners. Her best moments also come in Seal of the Worm, where she meets difficulties that even her best behaviour cannot overcome.
Averic and Eujen
Another double act: a Beetle scholar whose society gives him the leisure to criticise his leaders, and a Wasp exchange student from an Empire where a word out of place could see you on crossed pikes. A pair of unlikely best friends in the face of the Imperial advance in The Air War. I’m going to shirk this entry, because of all the things I don’t want to spoil, the crisis point of their friendship is one, but writing Eujen and Averic, and especially that crisis, was one of my favourite parts of War Master’s Gate.
A bit part player, for sure, and I honestly couldn’t say where the idea for an Imperial Fly-kinden artillery officer came from, but once he was there, the fact of his kinden gave him a great deal of character. Oski is mostly fun because he’s a tiny, tiny man in a world of big Wasp soldiers and even bigger machines, and he spends his entire time shouting and swearing at people because it’s the only way he can do his job. He’s also yet another character whose best personal moments are yet to come in Seal of the Worm
Rupert of Hentzau in the shape of a gigantic octopus. What’s not to like?