One of my favorite series from Aleksandr Voinov is the addicting and dangerous universe of the Memory of Scorpions series , an ancient mercenary band of brothers (and sister) with a history as rich as the kings they work for. Now comes the latest installment, and hopefully not the last, A Taste of Poison (Scorpions #3) by Aleksandr Voinov. You can follow Aleksandr Voinov on tour with all the dates here. For now, let’s focus in on Aleksandr Voinov on his Scorpions:
“Good versus Good”
Hi, I’m Aleksandr Voinov, and I’m happy to talk about my newest release. Thank you for the invitation!
I recently stumbled over this quote from Leo Tolstoy:
“The best stories don’t come from “good vs. bad” but “good vs. good.”
It struck home for me, because while some writing courses tell you that you need a “villain” (in m/m, it’s the “evil ex”), and the more villainous the villain, the more tension we get. I think it’s bollocks, to use a lovely British term. Even if we have an almost cartoonish level of over-simplification, in, say, Star Wars (I love Star Wars), the much more interesting evil guy is Darth Vader. (Palpatine is more “cartoon evil”) Why? Because he used to be “good” and Luke believes passionately that Darth Vader, his father, can be redeemed. And it’s amazing, because that levels the playing field – while Luke is still in training, Darth Vader is seen as “just evil”. Once Luke comes into his power, he gets almost literally hamstrung (arm-strung?) by the revelation that Darth Vader is his father, and the decision to get him back to the good side. It’s very difficult fighting a duel against somebody you want to save/redeem, especially when that somebody seems absolutely set on destroying or breaking you.
What a conflict.
So often we do have the villain with the redeeming feature (“He only wants to bring peace to the galaxy”). But studying real-life evil, I’m usually struck by how some of the evillest men ever fully accepted they were doing “bad things”, but they usually did it not out of lust for destruction, but because they were looking for a higher good. The evil they did was seen as a “price worth paying”. In short, they were twisted idealists. Some stated that the “work” (read: atrocities) wasn’t pleasant, but they sacrificed themselves, their sanity, their peace, their souls, to do it. And that’s really disturbing. “Personal sacrifice” is actually a virtue.
I have zero doubt that Adrastes in the Memory of Scorpions series considers himself the “good guy”, and Kendras is being bothersome, dishonest, disloyal, and also in league with mutinous soldiers. Apart from the obvious jealousy with regards to Kendras and Graukar, Adrastes is driven by the need/desire to rebuild the empire, to end internal wars, to be strong against outside invaders, and to have peace and prosperity. And if he has to kill, torture and wage war for that noble end – well, he’s good at it, and there would be much worse people to do it. Less competent, less decisive, less thorough. He truly believes he’s doing the right thing. And we’ve seen him as the charismatic, self-sacrificing leader who looks after his men. Regardless of what he does later, we know he’s not “evil”. He’s very possibly not “good”, he’s just human. Like they all are. We buy more into Kendras’s version of the story because we never hear the story of the other characters, but chances are, if we did, we’d buy their version and consider Kendras “evil” or “wrong”.
And that’s really where I’m coming from. I can’t do sparkly shiny heroes versus dark and twisted evil guys, because I don’t believe that’s how it happens in real life. I can have characters cross the line (arguably, once Adrastes begins assassinating political enemies and using his father’s intimidation tactics, that’s where he crosses the line), but even in fantasy, which is full of dark gods and demons and tyrants and whatnot, I just don’t believe in that model of the world.
For me, pitting idealists with strong values against each other is far more fun, so I can root for all of them. It keeps me engaged and happy as an author, and I hope it has the same effect on readers.
Title: A Taste of Poison (Memory of Scorpions #3) by Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Page Count: 260 pages
A Taste of Poison Blurb:
After barely surviving an assassination attempt, King Adrastes is a changed man—one who mistrusts even his allies and friends. He readies his empire for war against an enigmatic enemy, the Elder of Vededrin, but not everyone approves. While courtiers dare only to whisper dissent, an outrider called Death foments rebellion in the mountains, aided by a prophecy that promises he’ll stop the Black King.
Kendras—former lover to Adrastes and leader of the Scorpions—is sent with his elite mercenary force to bring Death to justice. But when Kendras learns who’s hiding behind the mask, he must choose between his lover Graukar, newly-appointed general to the king—and King Adrastes himself.
With no man to call master, the Scorpions could flee the danger and intrigue. But Kendras cannot abandon the man he once loved—or the man he’s growing to love—without first uncovering the real threat to the Empire.
A Taste of Poison Excerpt
“Officer, Lady Nhala wishes to see you.”
Kendras had barely sunk into the hot bathwater to wash the sweat and dirt off when Runner stepped into the room. He groaned and ducked his head underwater, scraping over his scalp with both hands, then emerged again, blowing out a breath.
“She looked like it was a pressing matter.” Runner walked over to the stool next to the bath and picked up a linen towel, unfolded it, and offered it to Kendras. Her ironic expression forbade any comment that she wasn’t a bath slave and he could dry himself. Kendras crumpled his washcloth into a ball and ran it over his chest, belly, armpits, and groin. No leisurely soak to loosen up his tired muscles, then. Duty was calling. He tossed the cloth into the water and stood.
She enveloped him in the towel, and he reached for a corner of it to dry his face and head before he stepped out of the bathtub. “Get me my boots and leathers.”
“At once, Officer.” She turned and walked off.
Kendras rubbed his skin dry and was almost finished before Runner returned. He tossed the towel over the rim of the tub and began to dress. “Let her in.”
He was just pulling on his boots when Nhala appeared in the doorway. He felt her gaze linger for a moment on his bare chest, then she straightened almost as if standing at attention. “Officer.”
“My lady.” He closed the top of his leathers and began tightening the straps and laces. “I’m at your service.”
She stepped further into the room and glanced over her shoulder back into the barracks, checking for witnesses, no doubt. “We are all called to war council. Immediately.”
Kendras bit down on a groan. After a long, hot day on the training yard, and before any food, standing for hours in his heavy plate armor while generals bickered over the best strategy to achieve a victory wasn’t a prospect he relished. He much preferred when the plan was set and the only issue left was when to act. “Who’s issued the call?”
More dead than alive. Maybe dead.
– See more at Riptide Publishing’s A Taste of Poison page.
Memory of Scorpions stories in the order they were written and should be read: