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Interview with 'Knightfall: The Infinite Deep' author

Knightfall returns to HISTORY this summer, but if you can't wait till then for your next instalment of Knights Templar drama, there's a new novel based on the series. 

The Infinite Deep begins after the fall of Acre and tells the story of what Landry and his crew of holy fighters, got up to between their expulsion from the Holy Land to their ignominious return to France.

David B. Coe, a seasoned fantasy novelist took on the challenge of translating the world of Knightfall from the screen to the page, creating a whole new series of adventures for our favourite warrior monks. We sat down with David to discuss the novel and what it was like for him entering the world of Knightfall.

If you had to describe Knightfall: The Infinite Deep in 5 words, what would they be and why?

Suspenseful, action-packed, personal, moving, unexpected.

Those are my five words. Easy peasy. 

Why? That gets a little harder.

Look, any novel written about the Knightfall series is going to be 'suspenseful' and 'action-packed.' The series lends itself to such stories. Knights, wars, intrigue, betrayal – the history of the Knights Templar, particularly their late history, when they were at odds with the French crown, is filled with these elements, and so incorporating them into my book, Knightfall: The Infinite Deep, was easy. 

But 'personal?' 'Moving?' That has everything to do with the characters. Landry, Tancrede, Godfrey, Gawain – all of them are point of view characters for portions of the book, which means we have access to their thoughts, their fears, their hopes, their devotion to each other and to their faith. And I also use some others as point of view characters, including Adelina, who is a young girl in this book. She plays a key role in this story, and I feel that her narrative voice is especially compelling and effective. She is a child in circumstances that would prove trying for even the most hardened adult.

And finally, 'unexpected.' This cuts two ways. On the one hand, I think that my readers will enjoy following the unforeseen twists and turns of my storyline. But I also have to admit that I found myself surprised by some of the things I learned while writing the book, and also by some of the places my characters took me. So unexpected says as much about my own process as about the story itself.

Can you give a brief overview of the plot?

The story begins in 1291, just as the city of Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land, is falling. Our heroes are forced to flee the city in a small ship, sailing with a handful of other Knights Templar, and a similar number of innocents who had been living in Acre. Their voyage is ill-fated from the start. The ship winds up in doldrums, adrift for days with limited supplies of water and food. When at last they find an isle where they might trade for food, they encounter a large company of Saracens and are forced again to flee, having secured only minimal stores. As they continue to search for a safe place to make landfall, one of their passengers steals most of the food for himself. He tries to blame the child, Adelina, but his crime is discovered and he is punished. Eventually, they find a place to land and replenish their supplies. While on land, Egan, in his anger and shame, betrays the ship to pirates.

'Knightfall: The Infinite Deep' takes place in that interval between the cold open –  Act I of Episode One – and Act Two of that same episode.'

When the ship sails again, these pirates, their leader a disgraced knight himself, overtake her. In the ensuing pursuit and battle the civilians escape, but the Knights Templar are taken hostage by the marauders who imprison them on a fortified island and torture them, seeking access to the vast riches the Templars are known to possess. The knights’ faith, in God and in each other, is tested, as is their physical endurance. In time, they manage to escape their cells and must battle their captors for their freedom.

How does the story of The Infinite Deep fit into the world of Knightfall?

One of the things I enjoyed while writing this book was the relative freedom I was given to play with the characters, while also nodding toward events to come in Season One. And the reason I could do this reflects directly on this question. In the cold open of the first episode of Season One, we see the battle for Acre and the Knights we come to know in the series escaping the city on that small ship. After the first commercial break, we find ourselves in Paris some fifteen years later.

Knightfall: The Infinite Deep takes place in that interval between the cold open –  Act I of Episode One – and Act Two of that same episode. So, on the one hand we know that our heroes (at least most of them) are going to survive the book. On the other hand, we have no idea what might happen to them in this story, or in the intervening years.

Do you need to have watched the series to enjoy this novel?

Short answer: Absolutely not. As I say, the action takes place between Acts I and II of Episode One, Season One. Readers don’t need to know anything about the series to enjoy the book, nor do they have to worry about encountering any spoilers that would lessen their enjoyment of even a single episode in the series.

On the other hand, for those who have watched Season One already, there are plenty of nods to the character dynamics explored in the episodes. And so fans of the show will be rewarded for their knowledge of the characters, the situations, the history.

How did you make sure you remained faithful to the characters as they are depicted in the series?

One of the great benefits of writing the book was that I had access to all the scripts for Season One, AND I got to watch all the first season episodes before they aired, as many times as I wanted.  So, I spent a lot of time studying the series, steeping myself in the world and the interactions among the various characters. 

Familiarizing myself with these things before I started writing was essential to my process. When I’m writing my own books, set in my own worlds and using my own characters, I have a thorough understanding of how I want to treat my narrative voices and how I hope to integrate my plotting with my character development and settings. In this case, since I was writing in someone else’s world, using characters that were not my own, I needed to make myself comfortable with all of the material in question. HISTORY’s ™ willingness to give me access to the scripts and episodes made that possible.

How did you go about researching this novel?

I do almost all my writing on a computer, and I spend a lot of time doing spot research on the web – answering questions as they come up during the writing of a novel. But when it comes to doing my initial research for a book or series, I’m a traditionalist. I like to read books. So when I began work on Knightfall: The Infinite Deep, I went to the library of our local university and checked out a pile of books about the Knights Templar. My timeline for writing the book was a little tight, so I didn’t have the luxury of weeks upon weeks to simply read the books cover to cover. Rather, I had to focus on the early information – how the Knights Templar came into being – and then the chapters detailing the last years of their existence, including their role in the later Crusades and their growing feud with the King of France.

I find that when I’m researching any book, it helps me to create a list of questions before I commence my research, and I did that here. Usually, in the early stages of my research, the knowledge I glean at first actually begets additional questions. But in time, I manage to address the holes in my knowledge to the point where I can begin writing. Now, the truth is that in this case, I came to the project with very limited knowledge of the Templars. I have a Ph.D. in history, but my specialization was U.S. history, so I really had a bit of a crash course in this material – Templars 101, as it were.

Did you learn anything surprising about the Knights Templar?

I had no idea that the Templars were, in a way, pioneers in the field of modern banking. They were far more than a fighting force. They helped to finance the Crusades by, essentially, taking collateral from people who intended to journey to the Holy Land, and then extending lines of credit to them that would allow them to fund their travel along the way. Fascinating stuff, and truly innovative for their time. I hadn’t known previously about any of that and so was struck by their ingenuity.

If you could write a novel based on any other TV series, what would it be and why?

I am a HUGE fan of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, and I have watched every episode of every season multiple times. I love the characters so much. Plus, I am a total political junkie and, once upon a time, before I got my doctorate in history, I worked as a political consultant. So I would really enjoy writing a novel – or several – based in that world.

You have previously written the Winds of the Forelands fantasy series, what was it like switching from fantasy to historical fiction?

So, actually, under my own name, David B. Coe, and my pen name, D.B. Jackson, I have written and published a total of twenty-one novels, and nearly as many short stories. I have written epic fantasy, like Winds of the Forelands. I have written modern, urban fantasy. And I have worked on multiple historical projects, including not just Knightfall: The Infinite Deep, but also a historical fantasy series called the Thieftaker Chronicles, which I published under the Jackson pseudonym.

I love writing fantasy – creating worlds and magic systems is tremendously fun. And I also love writing historical books and drawing on my long-time interest and professional background in history. When it comes right down to it, I find the transition from fantasy to historical work fairly easy to navigate. The demands of the two subgenres are not that different. I have to create and maintain characters and settings that are realistic and convincingly authentic, but I also have to keep them relatable to my 21st century audience. And I do that by making my point of view characters as engaging and accessible as possible. Each new book presents its own set of challenges, and also opportunities, but the differences among separate sorts of books are not as daunting as one might think.

What are you working on now?

My current project is a time travel/epic fantasy series that I am writing under the D.B. Jackson pen name. The series is called The Islevale Cycle. The first book, Time’s Children, came out in October 2018, and the second book, Time’s Demon, will be out in May 2019. I’m writing the third book right now. This is a really fun series to work on, in part because writing time travel presents so many challenges, and in part because I have been ambitious in my world building and have created a complex setting for the story I’m telling. If I may presume, I recommend the books

Watch Knightfall series 1 from April 27. Series 2, featuring Mark Hamill coming this summer...