November 16, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

This column is written for the small but loyal group of readers who have forged their way through the recently serialized The Price of the Terror. Those who haven't read it or don't know what it is are welcome to continue reading, but I'm not sure how much you'll get out of this...

One of the things I try to do with everything I write is to take a step back and regard it critically. The Price of Terror is no exception. I think it's the strongest of the three books in the series, in part because the storyline contained the least number of contrivances. I like the pacing. It's what is often referred to as an "easy read." My preference is to concentrate on dialogue and plot over description. You're not likely to find lengthy passages describing the opulence of a city or the lavishness of a throne. I throw out a few sentences and leave the rest to the reader's imagination. This is a personal preference. (I often find myself skimming overly descriptive paragraphs when I read books, so why write that way?)

I'm pleased with the major death scenes. Each has the appropriate tone and gives the character his or her due. The ending is a nice way to wrap up the trilogy without closing off the possibility of future stories. For the most part, I am conent with the way the battle scenes turned out. I didn't enjoy writing those, but a little bit of patience got me through them. Finally, the politics and gamesmanship during the first half of the book was some of the most enjoyable stuff to write.

As always, there are things I'm not as happy with. First and foremost is Grundig. As written, he's a one-dimensional villain. As envisioned, he was more complex and interesting. Originally, he was supposed to be accorded nearly the same number of pages as Lea, but that changed along the way. Grundig fell short of my grand ideal of what he could have been. Also, there's Sor's ghost. Before his first appearance, I never clarified the "rules" related to him. As a result, he pops up arbitrarily. This is something I should have thought through at the beginning. It isn't until the last half-dozen (or so) chapters that I codify the hows, whys, and whens of his appearances, but they're not necessarily congruous with when he showed up earlier.

There are also some tonal inconsistencies. I tried to minimize these, but that's what happens when a book is written over a span of about 13 years. The ending is probably a little rushed, but that's more a result of how I edited the book as opposed to how it was originally written. (I did a lot of cutting in the late chapters.) For those who are interested, here's how the chapter breakdown goes with respect to when they were written. Chapters 1-18 date to 1993. Chapters 19-25 were written in 1995. And Chapters 26-32 were written this year. The "breaks" might not be apparent because I did a lot of smoothing out and re-writing of Chapters 1-25 before embarking upon Chapter 26. My hope is that someone unaware of the book's lengthy writing history wouldn't notice any shifts while reading it.

Of all three books, this one metamorphosed the most from how I originally conceived it. Here are some of the biggest changes:

- The quatic war was originally intended to span two books. It was condensed into one. - Lea married Guc before the start of the quatic troubles. After overhearing him plotting against her, she waited until he was asleep, then stabbed him in the heart, killing him. Eya helped cover up the murder. Lea then took over Tsab, which rebelled against her rulership. Then the quatics attacked, making Tsab's rebellion a moot point. - Guc was revealed to have been Queen Sye in his prior life. - When the quatics attacked Vorti, Lea was captured. She was held in confinement and tortured until being rescued by Wil in the second book. - Wil led the flight from Devforth after the quatics had wiped out both the humans and the elves. Lea, a captive of the quatics and thought dead, was not on any of the ships. - Wil returned several years later leading a fighting force which waged a guerilla war against the quatics until a one-on-one battle between Wil and Grundig ended hostilities. Grundig was not killed. His brain was destroyed but his body went on living. Will was vaporized. - Originally, there was no ghost of Sor. - Post captivity, Lea was bloodthirsty and ordered massacres of captured quatics. - Lea, Mika, and Sor were involved in a triangle relationship. Lea loved Mika, Mika loved Sor, Sor loved Lea. Eventually, Sor and Lea were married, but that was for show. - Eya wiped out the Fels Wizards' School when she learned of their betrayal, killing everyone. Her attack freed Wil.

The change I made the most reluctantly was Lea's elimination of Guc. However, I wanted Guc to survive, so I couldn't have him die in their marriage bed. Having Lea captured by Grundig turned out to be unworkable within the framework of a single book.

There were also a lot of "deleted scenes" - things I wrote but edited out of the final manuscript. A few highlights:

- Four chapters of Grundig-only material were taken out. These detailed the conspiracy involving the Wizards' school and how the elves were suppressed. I removed them because they killed the pace, and tried to use short passages to summarize the deleted material. It's a trade-off. The original was more coherent, but it risked losing readers through disinterest. - Evi, the first human Grundig encountered, survived and returned to the swamps with him. She became his agent in contancting humans and was critical in arranging the betrayal that resulted in Tsab's gates being opened. She eventually died of a disease. Ultimately, I didn't think this worked, so I re-wrote the ending of the chapter where Grundig leaves her house and deleted everything else. - A chapter with Guc romancing Lea in Tsab was cut. It slowed things down too much. - The sex scene between Sor and Lea was pared considerably. It was never graphic, but there was more dialogue. I like the shorter version better. - A chapter detailing the battle of Llam was cut. I wasn't happy with it and didn't think it was critical. - A lot was cut from the final two chapters. The post-Worlds End sequence was longer, detailing indications of growing restlessness among the survivors as days and weeks passed without any indication of land. There was a lot more of Meg in the final chapter and details about how Mika "won" Sor.

If I chose to write a fourth book, where would it take the characters? The story would start 20 years after the end of The Price of Terror. Wil (son of Sor and Lea), the last of the Apaths, would decide to travel to Devforth. Lea would accompany him while Sor and Mika would remain behind to rule New Vorti. In Devorth, the return of Lea and the arrival of the only known Apath would incite a civil war. (By now, Guc would have complete control over the western human empire, including Fels. Gav, old but still in possession of his wits, would rule in the east.) Seeing the humans fighting against each other, the quatics would take advantage. And there would be a mysterious, malignant power waiting to emerge. (This would provide resolutions to two minor unanswered questions: what happened to the Apath who gave Wil lessons during the early chapters of the first book, and who was the old woman who identified Wil's Apath-sickness in the first book and Eya's in the second?)

At this point, I don't intend to write a fourth book, but that doesn't mean I haven't given it some thought. It even has a title: The Price of Redemption. For now, other projects possess a stronger lure. Meanwhile, for those who have stuck with me for all three books, my thanks. And if you haven't yet dropped me a note to tell me what you think, please do so. Critique the critic.