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Tell Me – Erin M. Evans

(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)

I’ve met up with Erin off and on at various conventions. She is a great person to talk to and I’m pleased to know she, like me, has a fascination with villains and the point of view of the villain. Lesser Evils is the sequence to Brimstone Angels.

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I can remember watching G.I. Joe as a child—four or maybe five years old—and wondering about Cobra. “They can’t,” I remember thinking, “just be evil.” No one would waste that many resources or poorly aimed red lasers on just being jerks. Not when being good, like G.I. Joe, clearly worked better.  Perhaps, I thought, Cobra believes they are being good. Perhaps they think G.I. Joe are the bad ones.

And there began my fascination with villains.

It’s a level of characterization that I won’t argue that old cartoon earned, but the idea of perspective affecting morality is one I love to read about and write about. Conflict is king, so far as I’m concerned, and nothing makes a conflict rule the page quite like the complexity of different people’s goals, prejudices, and desires coming together as if they’re a united force.

In Lesser Evils, Farideh, a tiefling warlock, is faced with a whole flock of villains. From the devils of the Nine Hells to the representatives of the shadowy City of Shade; from the ancient secrets of a mad arcanist to the fractious mercenaries of the secretive Zhentarim, she’s beset on all sides by people who could be labeled “evil.” Including Farideh herself—as a tiefling some portion of her blood is devilish and it shows in her horns, tail, and strange eyes; as a warlock, she draws powers from the Nine Hells. Put her in a line-up and not a few people would call her evil on that alone.

But in some cases, those evil-doers are allies, or allies of allies, or enemies of enemies—which can be as good as an ally. In some cases the “good” people on her side, aren’t so firmly on her side at all—can you trust someone who sees you as a rival and an impediment? Anyone could be a traitor or a valuable ally, and the line between “with me” and “against me” is one that shifts as the stakes rise and new foes appear. Even Farideh’s goals aren’t all pure and good, as she hunts for a spell to free the half-devil who fuels her warlock pact from his prison in the Nine Hells.

The best part of so many colliding factions? Characters. If I’m fascinated by villains, I’m deep-down, crazy in love with conflicted characters, and Lesser Evils stole my heart.

In their clashes and reflections, the shape of whole organizations can be seen.  Between the three Zhentarim characters, you have a power-hungry leader risen up from the streets, dodging assassinations and following risky rumors of powerful weapons; a merciless assassin as happy to train a starstruck girl as to turn around and run her through; and an archaeologist turned thief willing to do almost anything to keep the Zhentarim happy and funding her discoveries…even return to someone she’d long left behind.  And I hope you can find in that a secret society of people willing to do a lot to get what they want, capable of supporting each other as they build something massive and unstoppable…or undercut themselves by lashing out at the people who should be on their side. A tricky place to be.

So if you love conflict, villains, and alliances that stand the test of great strain as much as I do, be sure to check out Lesser Evils.