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Author Interview With Stephanie Laurens
Historical romance best-seller Stephanie Laurens shares insider details about her Black Cobra Quartet and the return of the Cynster series. In her final Black Cobra novel, The Reckless Bride, the author takes readers from India to England in a globe-trotting Regency adventure.
RT BOOK REVIEWS: The Black Cobra Quartet started in India. Why India?
Stephanie Laurens: Part of the challenge of being a career author is to keep the stories fresh, so I’m always searching for something a little different. The concept for the quartet grew from a straightforward question: at Waterloo the Cynsters fought with a heavy cavalry troop, which means at least 20 men, so what happened to the others—presumably all men like the Cynsters—after Waterloo? Some would almost certainly have stayed in the army, but what did the British army do after Waterloo? The answer was India, which, for the 140 years post-Waterloo, became increasingly important to the British Empire. India, and Englishmen returning from there, were very much a part of British life for a very large slice of the 1800s. Once I realized that I had a group of heroes serving with the British Army in India, the rest of the storyline evolved organically, very much a case of “If that is so, then this must happen next.”
RT: In the quartet, each book’s hero leaves Bombay and returns to England via a different and often exotic route. Rafe Carstairs is the hero in The Reckless Bride — tell us about the route he follows in returning to England’s shores.
SL: Of the four heroes, Rafe has the longest journey, which is primarily overland. From Bombay he rides north and west, through the Northwestern Frontier (now Pakistan) and travels through what is now Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, crosses the Black Sea and reaches Bulgaria. He has to flee Black Cobra cultists, but manages to give them the slip somewhere near the southern tip of the Transylvanian Alps, and tacks north to reach Buda. From there, because he has to juggle the timing of reaching England, and he can’t arrive on the Channel coast too early because he would be a sitting duck for the cult assassins there, he elects to travel by boat up the Danube, then across by carriage to Strasbourg to pick up another boat and travel down the Rhine. Because of the imperatives of both timing and avoiding the cultists scattered throughout the cities of Europe, this mode of travel stood out as an obvious choice. It was also a lot of fun for me—and hopefully the readers—to follow along as Rafe and his party sweep from Buda through Vienna and many other historic towns, then travel through the Black Forest to Strasbourg and once on the Rhine, there’s many magical moments with the fairytale castles and gracious river towns.
RT: In writing of Rafe’s journey, did you draw on any of your own experiences?
SL: Yes, both in the Prologue scene in the caravanseri, and in Strasbourg. I visited Afghanistan many decades ago, and visited a caravanseri—they are all very isolated, so I knew exactly what I was describing there. And in Strasbourg I was largely walking through my own memories. As for all the scenes in England, I lived there for some years and the sections of the country featured in the four volumes of the quartet are all familiar to me.
RT: Were there any special challenges you faced in researching the trip?
SL: The biggest challenge was not putting in too much—when studying such old cities, with such rich cultural and architectural heritages, there’s an abundance of sights and attractions that Rafe’s party might have chosen to view. The most beguiling thing was that so many of said sights and attractions have been preserved, and are still there today, which makes it easy to get pictures, and details, and…it’s all very tempting to write about it all.
RT: The heroine in The Reckless Bride has a rather unusual hobby-cum-career as a news sheet columnist. Were there such writers in Regency days?
SL: When I looked I discovered there were a surprising number of “news sheets” and periodicals being published at that time, perhaps even more than today. Many of the periodicals we would consider the forerunners of today’s magazines. And yes, there were indeed “correspondents” or “contributors” from various walks of life, including the upper classes. The latter, for the obvious social reasons, wrote under pen-names, or, as Loretta, the heroine in The Reckless Bride, does, under a byline-title such as, in her case, “A Young Lady About London.”
RT: In each volume of the quartet, various Cynsters and members of the Bastion Club appear as secondary characters. Was it part of your original concept to revisit these earlier heroes and heroines?
SL: Not to the degree that has come to be. Initially, I knew that the five officers who went to India were friends of the Cynsters, the six cousins who fought at Waterloo, so that connection was there from the initial concept. Once the plot started evolving, it seemed obvious that, when the five officers in India needed advice on how to bring down the Black Cobra, they would appeal to Devil Cynster—and given the nature of their request, in that they knew they had to accuse a member of the aristocracy, and given Devil’s connection with Royce, Duke of Wolverstone, then of course Devil would ask Royce. Once Royce was involved…all the rest fell into place. The overall plan to bring down the Black Cobra is largely of Royce’s making, and of course he would only use those people he could trust to carry out the various mini-missions involved in the whole—namely the Cynster cousins and the members of the Bastion Club. The timing of the quartet was fortuitous as the five officers had to have been in India for some years, and over those years both the Cynster cousins and the Bastion Club members had married, settled down, and started raising their families…and it was very easy to imagine that those previously very active gentlemen might be quick to seize the chance of being involved in an adventure again.
RT: The Black Cobra is a very different, very complex sort of villain. Was there a reason for creating such a well-screened villain?
SL: Because of having four books, the Black Cobra had to be a Russian-doll sort of villain—in each book, our protagonists, and the readers along with them, peel off one layer only to find they still haven’t got to the truth—to the real Black Cobra. Exposing the real Black Cobra becomes more and more chancy, less and less certain, as the books progress, until toward the end our protagonists know they are truly at the point of having only this one last throw of the dice…and they very nearly lose the game. The real Black Cobra was clear to me from the first, and given that, their liking for secrecy, their habit of hiding their identity, was something that would necessarily occur. Secrecy was from the first an intrinsic part of their character—they couldn’t have existed any other way. The Russian-doll effect was therefore relatively easy to achieve, because it was a natural extension of the character who was the real Black Cobra.
RT: Now the Black Cobra has been vanquished, what’s next from Stephanie Laurens?
SL: There are two answers to that. First, at the end of The Reckless Bride, Neville Roscoe, who we first met in The Edge of Desire, reappears to lend a hand in dealing with a minor villain. Roscoe, too, is a very complex, highly secretive man, one who had lived his adult life on the borderline between polite society and the criminal world, but to all, he is very much a mystery man. His book, the plot of which picks up from that brief appearance in The Reckless Bride, is high on my “likely to be next” list.
The other project on that list is the long-awaited return to the romances of the Cynster family—a trilogy involving the connected romances of Gabriel and Lucifer’s three sisters, Heather, Eliza and Angelica. The books follow one after the other, all are set in Scotland, and are adventure-dramas with a touch of mystery—much along the lines of Errol Flynn rescues Jane Austen in the wilds of Scotland, with the third book being more Jane Austen rescues Errol Flynn in the Scottish Highlands.
Which of those two projects will reach the readers first is currently up in the air, but the answer will be announced in my website newsletter in October (which you can sign up for at www.stephanielaurens.com).