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Fantasy for the Rest of Us

by Rebekah Jensen (March 13, 2001)

A greedy and merciless ruler meets an implacable numberless foe. The two tremendous armies clash, the land is torn apart and a horrible magic unleashes a swath of unbelievable devastation over the kingdom. Then The Hob's Bargain by Patricia Briggs begins.

Patty Briggs has an affinity for the little guy - not the great hero who is destined by Fate to take on the Coming Great Evil, but the sister he leaves behind, the blacksmith who shoes his horse, or even just someone who had only heard vague rumors about such lofty events while they were involved in living their own lives. These "little guys" fight their own battles, often dealing with the forgotten aftermath of the Great Battle that happened over the other side of the hills.

In The Hob's Bargain, the heroine, Aren, doesn't abandon her town to confront the evil overlord or burn herself up trying to rectify all of the consequences of the terrible magic. She has her hands full dealing with deaths in her immediate family, the damaged crops, and leakages of wild magic that overrun the town square and escape the graveyards. That does not in any way make Aren's struggles mundane. Her fight to gain understanding and control of her newly expanded powers is as compelling as any epic battle and perhaps even more essential to the future of a land awakening with wild magic and creatures. Aren helps her stunned and frightened people realize who their true enemies are and in what unusual places and forms they can find friends.

Another common characteristic of Briggs's four novels - Masques, Steal The Dragon, When Demons Walk and The Hob's Bargain - is that they are very character focused. Briggs does not drown us with the entire pantheon of demons or put us to sleep with essays on the ramifications of divergent magical systems. Too often in Fantasy these days the setting overwhelms and swallows up the characters. Briggs has her characters front and foremost and those characters are very likable and immediately compelling. The interaction, and often romance, between the characters is the core of her stories. Each of her books leads with a strong female character with some unique twist - a thief, escaped slave, or gifted/cursed magic like shapeshifting or Aren's sight. And then there is the strong main male character - the secretive Wolf, the mysterious healer, the reluctant reformer. The Hob in The Hob's Bargain is the most interesting of all. Caefawn, as he names himself, is a magical near-human being. Given the fact that physically he is large, hairy, strong, and fast, he could have easily been a brooding Beast type. Instead, he is a whimsical and playful being, trying in his own way to help Aren deal with raiders, elemental gods, and her own battered spirit.

That whimsical touch to traditional Fantasy is another thing that distinguishes a novel by Briggs. In The Hob's Bargain, we see her own take on wraiths, Little People, and fetches. The hillgrims are a particularly nasty creature that I am glad didn't hide in _my_ closet when I was a child. In other books we see sorceresses and masters of illusion, dragons (or at least their effects), mercenaries and spies. Each type is slightly off of the expected and given its own form and freshness. In one fun memorable scene from When Demons Walk, the heroine, who is posing as the hero's mistress, simpers and fawns over the very uncomfortable hero.

It is easy to like Patricia Briggs's novels. Her books are perfect for a Friday evening or a late Sunday afternoon when you don't want to have to work to enjoy your reading. Her books are clever, engaging, fast-moving and with plots that manage to be thought-provoking without being heavy-handed. A warning, however - make sure you don't start the dinner cooking or the lawn watering before you curl up with one of her books, because you'll end up with a burnt dinner and a soggy lawn and an enjoyable few hours lost in another world.

Hob's Bargain


Steal the Dragon

When Demons Walk

The Interview March 10, 2001

Rebekah: Do you tend to think of a plot/situation and then the characters or the other way around? Or of a world or milieu and then populate it and see what happens?

Patty: I almost always start with a character I think might be interesting and work out from there. Not always, though. When I began Steal the Dragon, I knew exactly the plot I was going to use and how the book would turn out. I was wrong, but I did have a very clear idea of where I was going. I made the mistake of making Rialla an ex-slave rather than an ex-servant and saddled the book with a whole lot of issues I hadn't planned on dealing with -- changing the book from a simple murder mystery to something quite different.

Masques started with the character of Wolf who was fully fleshed out long before I started the book (I created him when I was nine or ten to fight nightmares. He was scarier than any of the monsters who hid under my bed, but he liked me. It worked surprisingly well.) Wolf's experiences largely built the foundations for the world that Masques, Steal the Dragon, and When Demons Walk take place in. Aralorn was built around Wolf. I needed someone strong enough that it would be believable a person who was as hurt and as dangerous as Wolf could have a healthy relationship with her -- only then did I start building the story. The Hob's Bargain began as a writing assignment from our critique group (which was a character piece) and a discussion with a writer who had just written an apocalypic SF novel. I just combined ideas. I'd just finished reading Charles deLint's Jack of Kinrowan, and rereading Emma Bull's The War of the Oaks and I decided to put a host of folklore elements into the Hob's world.

Rebekah: In particular, what made you create the Hob? He is a very unique character - looking at the cover picture you would never guess that one of the qualities he most desires in a mate is a sense of mischief.

Patty: The assignment from our critique group was to write an erotic scene. I decided it would be more shocking done with a character who was not human. If that's all it had been, though, I could have cheerfully just thrown it out; but Aren insisted on being a woman of character and the Hob's wry humor haunted me so I was forced to put them in the next book I wrote. The Hob's desire for mischief took me by surprise as well. He refused to be a brooding dark creature and instead followed the traditional personality of some of the kinder fey in particular the hob (although something of the pooka crept in). The original hob of folklore was known as the "luck of the farm" and had much in common with brownies. They were a helpful breed, credited with driving away gremlins and less congenial fey. But it was Caefawn who developed his own sense of fun.

Rebekah: In The Hob's Bargain, as a underlying theme, you explore how prejudice and hatred can damage a community. That seems to be a reoccurring theme - is it something that you deliberately set out to examine or does it kind of develop by itself?

Patty: There are a lot of things that factor in to this. I set up a situation early on in my books, then try to predict how all of the characters would logically react. I began The Hob's Bargain with the idea that "natural" magic had been banished from the land and the only thing left was "blood" magic which was corrupt. Add to this a religion, that if followed in its strictest sense, would encourage its followers to destroy mages -- then force these people to depend upon magic and the mageborn to survive and I saw a community ready to shake itself to pieces out of fear.

As a general theme... Magic is power, and it is largely not understood. That's the nature of magic. I think that the people with magic would be feared by the people without magic and fear leads naturally to hatred and prejudice. And on a more personal note hatred frightens me. People (myself included) find it much easier to hate then to understand. People who hate do things that they would never ordinarily do. I'm thinking of the man I knew who bragged about going to the gay bars and beating up the men there, or the guy who was everybody's idea of a good neighbor who tortured his former friends when he was appointed to head a concentration camp. As a history and German major, I always keep in mind that it was the most advanced, sophisticated, educated country in the world that tried to eliminate Jews. Hatred is easy, understanding takes work.

Rebekah: Was the "Beauty and the Beast" story strong in your mind when you wrote The Hob's Bargain or is that the blurb-writer's interpretation?

Patty: No, yes, in that order. But I will admit it is my favorite Disney movie.

Rebekah: Loved your "about the author" paragraph. Have your children grown into great readers too?

Patty: Collin (13) reads all the time, he's even read some of my books. Amanda (8) reads a lot as well. My youngest daughter, Jordan (7) doesn't stand a chance.

Rebekah: Do you consider all of your books to be in the same world or different ones? Are your books linked? Why are they linked so loosely? Is there a "big picture"?

Patty: Masques, Steal the Dragon and When Demons Walk all take place in the same world. Masques and Steal the Dragon take place just a few years apart and even share a few of the side characters as they both concern the actions of the mercenary city-state, Sianim. The background action in these books is the set up for When Demons Walk which takes place a couple of decades later in another country. The reason they are so loosely linked is partially that I have always enjoyed stories about "the little guy". My first three books are, in effect, a "behind the scenes of a major epic fantasy" because I find that more interesting. Let Terran overrun the lands with his endless battles to save the world for his God I want to know what happens to his disillusioned general and a girl who was robbed of her family not the details of the battle plans. The reason I decided not to, for instance, let Aralorn step into Rialla's story, is because I couldn't see a way to do it without slapping the reader in the face with the "hand of the author".

The Hob's Bargain takes place in a different world entirely.

Rebekah: I think the comment that comes up most often is, "great book, where's the sequel? :)

Patty: Only Masques has a sequel written, but Masques "limited edition" status <g> has put off the publication of the sequel until my publisher is really enthusiastic about my numbers.

Rebekah: One person on our list in particular asked me to ask you this-- "The way When Demons Walk ended, it made it possible for the book to have a sequel and further adventures for the heroine. Was this done for this purpose? Is there a sequel in the making? If not, please reconsider. "

Patty: I have a story in mind for Sham and Kerim, but I'm not willing to devote a year to writing it unless I'm sure it can be published (see my answer below). I, for one, am really curious about how the cultural differences will affect Sham and Kerim's relationship.

Rebekah: and another person on the list-- "She mentioned in her e-mail last year that she has a sequel in mind for Aralorn and Wolf. When, when, when???"

Patty: As I mentioned above, it is already written and tentatively titled Wolf's Bane. Ace would have published it if hadn't been a true sequel, requiring the readers to have read the first book in order to understand the events of the second. To publish it would require Ace to republish Masques -- and my numbers did not support that when I submitted the manuscript originally. I do not intend for the year I spent writing it to go to waste, but I'm waiting to see what the numbers look like for The Hob's Bargain before I talk to my publisher about it again.

Rebekah: I feel like most of your books have a deliberate openness at the end, making them feel like they are part of a greater story. In many ways, that's good - making things not too pat or easily tied up. But it does leave the reader hoping there's a sequel. :)

Patty: With the exception of When Demons Walk, I have not intentionally set up my books for a sequel. What I really wanted to do was give my readers the sense that the characters continued with their lives. Happy-ever-after is a continuing process, not an end.

Rebekah: How do you feel about having Masques regularly auction for big bucks on eBay?

Patty: Ooo. Didn't know about that until you asked. So I looked on eBay and saw that a copy sold in February for $52.00 US. How flattering. :)

Rebekah: Any chance of reprints?

Patty: See my answer to the question about its sequel. If you have more specific information on the auctions maybe my agent can take those numbers to Ace and see if they're impressed. I have a terrific editor at Ace, but she has to justify her decisions to the bean counters.

Rebekah: I find the romances in your book strong and believable. (Though I remember being disappointed that the "consummation" scene, as it were, in Steal the Dragon, was only hinted at.) Many romance readers enjoy your books for that reason. Is that an audience that you thought of when you first started publishing?

Patty: I try to write a book I would like to read. I like emotional books that sweep me up into the lives of characters, and love is a powerful emotion whether it is between two lovers or a boy and his dog. I also know something about love, so it's easier for me to write. As far as graphic sex is concerned...I can write erotica, but so far it hasn't seemed necessary to the story for me. Looking back on it, perhaps the consummation scene in Steal the Dragon should have been "beefed up". Rialla had a lot of intimacy issues that were relevant to her character, and a more graphic scene would have allowed me to explore them. All I can say is that it was my second book and Rialla pushed me beyond the limits of my skills as it was.

Rebekah: And then there's the standard but always interesting question of who are your favorite authors. Has that changed since you've become an author yourself?

Patty: I read a lot. I mean a lot. Two to three books a day sometimes more. These are authors I buy in hardback in no particular order: Laurell K. Hamilton, Lois McMaster Bujold, Dick Francis, Barbara Hambly, David Weber, Elizabeth Peters, Robin McKinley, Andre Norton, and Jeffrey Farnol (most of his date from the turn of the century though.). Some of my other favorites, bless their hearts, still publish only in paperback: Joan Wolf, Tanya Huff, Lyn Flewelling, Michael Stackpole. This is all just off the top of my head (all right I ran to the bookshelf to make sure I spelled Flewelling right) I'm sure I've forgotten some.

No, my tastes haven't really changed since I started writing, though as I read more books, I find more favorite authors. I went through a terrible period just after Masques was published when I couldn't read fantasy for enjoyment (except for Barbara Hambly's). I still tend to read fantasy more critically than I used to especially when the author in question commits some of the mistakes I've had to work hard to eliminate.

Rebekah: Oh, and do you have a web page or plan to have one for your fans?

Patty: My husband is a computer nerd. I have no excuse for not having a web page. Yes, we do intend to get one set up as soon as I sit down with him and tell him what I want. Suggestions are welcome! Update: Patty now has a lovely website (see below).

Thanks to Patty Briggs for her time, and for her books!
Visit her website at

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