Plot Outline:The book starts almost immediately after the end of "Ocean Of Blood", with Larten and the baby stranded in the icy wastes of Greenland. Larten searches for death in the snowdrifts, but is spared by a very unexpected twist of destiny. The action then jumps forward several years, to Paris at the turn of the 20th century. Larten is in love, and successful in business, but a face from his past threatens to lead him astray and undermine his happiness. In this sweeping novel, Larten also returns to Vampire Mountain, takes part in the First World War, and takes responsibility for the sins of his past in a showdown in a volatile Russian city...
Author Notes:"Palace of the Damned" is a bit like a David Lean movie in its scope! It crosses the globe, features action, suspense, treachery, romance and war. Eat your heart out, Doctor Zhivago!! :-)
I wrote the first draft of the third book of the series in March 2007, straight after the first two. This was always going to be a crucial book, because it covers the period where we see Larten grow and learn and become a man. That made it particularly challenging. In the first two, I knew I could write the character in such a way that children would be able to relate to him, since from a mental viewpoint they cover his childhood and teenage years. In this book he becomes an adult, and the problem was in handling that in such a way that my younger readers would still care about him.
One of the ways in which I tackled the problem was by giving Larten a young sidekick. In "The Saga of Darren Shan", we saw him through his relationship with Darren, and I think that's why he was so popular -- he was an adult, but seen through a child's eyes. I couldn't do that here, because the series is written in the third person, but by focusing on his strained relationship with the growing baby, I was able to (hopefully!) make him interesting and sympathetic to children. I don't want to say much more about that sidekick, because I don't wish to spoil the surprise! Except that when I was first plotting the series, I couldn't see how to make the second half work -- until I managed to figure out who the baby was, and then everything fell neatly into place. If I hadn't put two and two together at that point, I think I'd still be sitting here, scratching my head, unable to start!!
I knew in this book that I would have to touch on a few "facts" about Larten's past which were mentioned in the original series. Although Larten never said much about his exploits before he met Darren, we did find out in the first set of books that he had been in in Paris in 1903, that he had been engaged to a human woman, and also that he had flown in one of the early versions of an aeroplace. That last fact wasn't too important to the plot, but I wanted to work it in, as I felt it would be a fun scene.
I quickly figured out a way to pull all three "facts" together, but there was a problem. To fit into the story, the plane scene would have to happen while Larten was in Paris. Timewise that wasn't a major issue, since the Wright Brothers flew their first plane in 1903, which fit in quite neatly -- but the Wright Brothers were based in America, not Europe! Following some research, I learnt to my delight that the Wright Brothers were not the only aviation pioneers at work at that time. In fact, a key figure in the history of manned flight was a guy called Alberto Santos-Dumont, who built what many people consider to be the first "true" airplane -- the Wrights used catapults to help their plane get off the ground, whereas Santos-Dumont relied on wheels, making his craft the first to take off purely under its own power. Alberto was orginally from Brazil -- but spent much of his life in Paris!!! Hurrah!!
Once I pegged Alberto as my man in the air, the only fly in the ointment then was the timing. It was 1906 before he launched his 14-bis into the skies. I struggled with how to explain how Larten's engagement could have taken place in 1906, while on the painting of him and his fiancee it said 1903. The answer, in the end, was quite simple, but it took me a hell of a long time to figure it out!!
I love how Larten matures over the course of this novel. This is when we first start to see the adult whom we initially encountered in "Cirque Du Freak". He completes his training, settles into his life, and finds real peace for the first time. Obviously we, the readers, know that he still has a rocky path ahead of him -- the most dreadful part of his life is still to come, the event that will cause him to sever all ties with the clan and embark on a lonely career with the Cirque Du Freak -- but now he is equipped to face it on his feet, calmly, as a man. This book covers some of Larten's happiest, most content years, before destiny once again led him astray, into the darkness of the night.
I hope you enjoy this calm before the storm as much as I did when writing the book. Cherish these quiet, bittersweet moments, and don't worry too much about the horrors of Book 4. There'll be time enough to deal with them in May 2012, when "Brothers to the Death" hits shelves and rounds the series out in a suitably grisly, heartrending fashion...