I realized only after reviewing my upcoming posts that I’d skipped this short story. While I wrote it after finishing the serial novella “Husks,” chronologically it occurs first. For followers of Paizo’s website, it wasn’t a problem since most installments of “Husks” appeared in print after the web story concluded. Unfortunately, the novel Master of Devils had been published before most of “Husks” appeared, so I suspect many folks missed the story, the novella, or both. Fortunately, they’re both still available at paizo.com.
Virtually spoiler-free reminiscence.
To avoid too much similarity with the Jade Regent Adventure Path, editor James Sutter cautioned me not to include a substantial journey to Tian Xia, where “Husks” and Master of Devils take place. He suggested the boys would use magical means to reach their destination.
While I had hoped to include a sea journey, searching for someone powerful enough to cast a teleport spell gave me an opportunity to take Varian to Absalom, the seat of the Pathfinder Society’s inner circle. And I could work in a sea voyage after all, since the obvious path from Ustalav to Absalom is almost entirely by river or sea.
I had begun to think I’d emphasize investigations in the short fiction and let the boys experience more action-oriented adventures in the novels. While “Husks” is also a murder mystery, it’s a bit more of a procedural. I wanted to try something a little different this time.
I certainly had Agatha Christie in mind when devising “A Passage to Absalom,” especially in the conceit of a closed setting and a group of colorful and eccentric suspects. I admire writers like Christie, who can write clever mysteries with brilliant detectives. As a less-than-brilliant non-detective, I’ve never felt quite up to the task. Thus, holding up Christie as a model was a challenge to myself.
Fun fact: This is the second story I wrote only from Varian’s POV, but so far it’s the only one in which he’s the sole narrator while Radovan is also present. (The others take place before Varian meets Radovan.) It gave me an opportunity to show certain of Radovan’s behaviors in a less flattering light.
Four 2,000-word chapters is a short space in which to introduce new characters and construct a murder mystery. By the time I finished writing it, I felt it had worked, but I wasn’t sure whether I’d left enough clues to make it fair but not so many that it was easy to guess the ending.
Another fun fact: I intended that two of the characters who survived the story could potentially return later. Thus far, however, neither has.
I was delighted and a little nervous when the readers at paizo.com began speculating. They made some clever observations. After the third chapter appeared, I was sure someone would guess the ending But no! Thankfully, no one guessed the ending exactly right, although three of them each guessed a part of the answer, making me feel the clues had been fair.
Oh, all right, one more fun fact: To the delight of one Finn, I gave the dwarves in this story Finnish first names. I often give characters real-world names that aren’t too common in North America so that they sound natural but don’t break the “reality” of the fantasy world. “Steve the elf” might be a problem, whereas “Radovan the hellspawn” doesn’t throw most readers.
You can read “A Passage to Absalom” for free, right here. If you dig it, consider leaving a review on the product page, where you can buy it in ePub format.