Earlier this month, The Emperor’s Knives by Anthony Riches was published, the latest and dare I say the best yet in Tony’s fabulous action-packed Roman Empire series. You can read my review here. I was delighted to be given the chance to ask Tony some questions – not least because this isn’t the first time I have subjected him to the ordeal. In the interview below, Tony talks about keeping the series fresh, bringing Rome and its soldiers and gladiators alive and also about the his next planned Romani Walk with Ben Kane and Russ Whitfield. As Tony is one of my science fiction gurus (a lesser known role), I’m pleased to say there’s a little bit about that, too.
Congratulations for The Emperor’s Knives, which is one of the best Roman novels I’ve read and maybe even my favourite of the Empire series! How difficult is it to keep the series fresh and the story full of surprises?
Thanks Kate. The book’s been well received by readers of the series, and it was an absolute pleasure to write, as it effectively formed the end of the first story arc within the 25 books or so that make up the whole thing. I think it’s my favourite too! As to how hard it is to keep it all fresh, it’s not that difficult (I gloss over all of those staring out of the window moments, naturally). My technique is first and foremost to follow the history of the late 2nd century, which can be amazingly kind in some places. For example **spoiler alert!** it’s recorded that a consignment of coins stamped with a head that wasn’t the emperor’s was at the root of the death of a certain praetorian prefect in about AD185 – and so it wasn’t rocket science to draw a golden thread of narrative from Dacia (where the gold came from), through Britannia (where it was intended to be used in the purchase of legionary loyalty) to Rome (where the Tungrians take it to see justice done) **spoilers over**. The other trick is to keep introducing new characters – I tend to find that they then do the heavy lifting for me in terms of moving the story on.
In this novel, our Tungrians are in Rome. The descriptions of the ancient city are fabulous. What kind of research did you do?
I wandered round Rome a fair bit, walking the seven hills and getting the topology straight in my head (and the book was in fact completed in Rome last summer, which was so cool – and *just* tolerated by my wife). I had the help of the incomparable ‘Dans la Rome des Cesars’ which is an amazing ‘street guide’ to ancient Rome which, while some of it is very artistic licence, is an amazing source as to what was where in the ancient city. Highly recommended. A little of it I made up – for example there is no known tunnel from the Dacian gladiator school to the Flavian Arena, but there is one from the Great School, and it’s not beyond possibility that the Dacian school had one joined up with it in some way.
There are gladiators here as well as soldiers. Was it fun to branch out?
Huge fun, I’ve been wanting to do that for a while. It was a whole different way of life to that of the soldier, since gladiators were rendered ‘infamis’ by their profession, lower even than slaves and yet irresistible to certain types of lady. Amazing! I also liked speculating how alike to modern wrestling it was in terms of fixed fights – and the occasional nasty surprise for one of the participants!
Are you willing to drop any clues as to where our Tungrians may be sent next?
I already have! Somewhere distant, and warm…
I understand that you’re off on another Romani Walk this year with Ben Kane. Where are you off to this time and why are you putting yourself through it again?!
We (Ben, Russ Whitfield and an unfit old bald man called Riches) are doing Pompeii to Rome at the end of April, with a film crew. We’re walking for Combat Stress and MSF once again, and you can give here if you’d like to be part of it (and get your name in the film). And why? Stupidity, a desire to give something back, the sense of a challenge… yeah, stupidity in the main.
What are you reading at the moment and do you have a favourite novel of 2013?
Hmmm. Right now? ‘Child44’. Not loving it yet, but the book is yet young. What I really want is a copy of Joe Abercrombie’s new one! And my favourite book of 2013…? Nothing stood out for me in lights, to be honest, not in the way that Iain Banks and Richard Morgan used to (Morgan’s not dead, he just stopped writing about Takashi Kovacs!)…I suppose ‘Red Country’ by the aforementioned Joe. I’m hoping to find a writer to replace the sadly departed Iain M in my affections this year, he’s a huge loss. Resquiat in Pacem.
Reviews and features
Empire I: Wounds of Honour
Empire II: Arrows of Fury
Empire III: Fortress of Spears
Empire IV: The Leopard Sword
Empire V: The Wolf’s Gold
Empire VI: The Eagle’s Vengeance
Empire VII: The Emperor’s Knives
An interview for The Eagle’s Vengeance
A report on the launch of The Leopard Sword.
You might also want to take a look at this report on last year’s Romani Walk from the Telegraph