Queen of None was always about the stories within the story. But I also knew that Anna was not always the most reliable narrator. She is a good and compelling hero–but like all heroes, she has her faults, her missing pieces. The version of the characters you see in Queen of None is her take on them. Even some of those closest to her, like her own sons, are portrayed and informed by her own biases.
Back in 2010, I actually started the sequel to Queen of None, originally entitled Knight of the Blood. At that point, it was going to be about Gawain and Palomydes at war. A story about their time battling the Ascomanni (my version of the Danes) as well as errant Sachsens. The idea was a hard-boiled, gritty fantasy that looked at the effects of war on Gawain as a born killer. Elements of that found their way into Queen of Fury, but not anywhere like I expected.
Anna is not an easy mother, especially on Gawain. Most of their scenes in Queen of None are fraught. But I knew, from day one, that Gawain was going to be important. I mean, if you read the introduction to the book, you know that Gawain was my gateway into Arthuriana. He was the first knight I really fell in love with, the first character I did a deep dive in, in terms of research, tracing his progression through the canon over 1,000 years.
And that fact–change–informs Gawain between books. In fact, Gawain is changing a great deal in Queen of None, but Anna is not present enough to see it. She is so wrapped up in her own machinations, her own vengeance, that she does not see Gawain’s struggles. When he is enraged, drunk, terrible, she blames the influence of the court and his hot temper. She does not take in to consideration the very real toll war and loss are taking on him.
She does not know his life beyond where they interact.
In this way, I took from something I experienced with my son when he was particularly young. Raising an autistic child who is so single-minded is a struggle. I used to say that when we were not around our son, it was as if we did not exist. But when we showed up, there we were on stage, in his play. When we were not, we were in the dark.
Anna, not Gawain, is like this, in Queen of None. Her single-mindedness means sacrificing connection to others. I believe she is somewhat aware of this, but then I also know she resigned herself to losing her sons to Arthur many years ago. Such things happen when you have children at thirteen in a court such as this.
That said, she was a good mother in many ways. I did a lot of thinking about what Anna did right. She planted a lot of seeds, hoping they would grow in Gawain, that he would be more like her and less like Gawain’s father Lot. And in Queen of Fury, much of this comes to light.
Here’s an old excerpt from Knight of the Blood, a flashback of Gawain and Bors after Gawain experiences his first blood rage and nearly kills Palomydes when he cannot control himself. None of this ended up in Queen of Fury, but it would have happened during Queen of None.
Bors sighed, looking at me with that terrible pity of his. “What were you thinking, Gawain? I know it gets confusing out there, when the heat of the battle gets moving in your veins. I’ve felt it, too. But the way the Moor tells it, you knew well who he was when you drew steel against him. Said his name and all.”
I hated being alive. I hated answering to Bors. I hated the pain, the loss, the memory of it.
“Did you even see yourself on the field, boy? You were like Ayr himself, born again to us. You cut through the barbarians like they were no more than wheat in a field, you and that bastard sword of yours,” Bors continued, prideful as a rooster. “Last I saw of you, you were flushed as though you’d just bedded. So, what changed?”
I could not tell him. The words were there, the thoughts behind them, the recollections, the logic—Arthur and Bedevere would have approved of that last one, certainly. But I could not find a way to move beyond it.
“Everything,” was what I said, but it was nothing, really. Nothingness was all I had left.