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07/07/01: Tinker, Tailor, Sorceror, Spy
by Pieter van Hiel

After 21 years and eleven books, Canadian author Dennis Jones is still a newcomer to the world of fantasy fiction. The 55 year old resident of Lanark, Ontario, published his first book in 1980, and has been writing steadily since. However, it was only in recent years that Jones decided to try his hand at one his first literary loves; sword and sorcery. The Mask and the Sorceress, his second novel in this genre, was released in late April.

Jones is a well established cold-war novelist, with six Cold War thrillers and three spy novels to his name, including Winter Palace, Rubicon One and Russian Spring. A technical writer by trade, Jones started writing fiction in 1979. He sold his first book in 1980, and the sale encouraged him to keep plugging away at novels in his spare time. Jones said his decision to switch to fantasy was firmly based in reality. "The cold war seemed to be pretty much over, and it got pretty difficult to sell those books," he says.

The Mask and Sorceress is a sequel to Joneís first novel, The Stone and the Maiden. The novels are separated by twenty years, and describe the history and events of a Byzantine world of wizards, fading empires and political skullduggery. The second book gives a very definitive sense of closure to the story, even though Jones has been contracted to write a third fantasy novel. "The Mask and Sorceress is the final book. It was thought to be a trilogy originally, but I had never really committed myself to that. It brings the story of that world, and its people, to a reasonably satisfactory conclusion. Iím working on quite a different story at the moment," Jones says.

Jones writes books in genres he enjoys reading. His previous works reflect his love of the writings of Len Deighton and John Le Carre. His love of classic science fiction and fantasy now drives his creative urge, and he drew from influences like Gene Wolfe and J.R.R. Tolkien. "When I stopped writing espionage novels, I decided Iíd start writing the other kind of book I liked, which was fantasy," says Jones. Though he has left behind the world of spies and Cold War machinations, Jonesí fantasy works expose his modern thriller roots in more than one regard. Fans of his earlier works will recognize the power brokering and political maneuvering that is evident in his latest novels. "Thereís palace politics at work, and skullduggery, and dirty work at the cross roads," says Jones of The Mask and Sorceress.

Jonesí original fantasy world largely evolved to suit the plot as he developed it. "I had a sort of an idea of a world I wanted to work with, which was really a little Byzantine, Eastern Roman Empire based... and I developed it in tandem with the plot. I guess in some ways it did really preexist in my imagination, though," he says. The setting is fairly unique amongst fantasy works of this kind, and is one of things that allows his work to stand-out in a market heavily saturated with Ďeuro-medievalí fantasy worlds. Jones says he also took care to avoid some of the most over-used staples of the genre.

"The Lord of the Rings has been so widely imitated that I try to stay away from it as much as possible. You wont find an elf anywhere in either of those two books. However, you do find magic, you do find wizards. Some things come with the fantasy territory," he says. Aside from this, Jones feels the greatest distinguishing factor for his fantasy novels are his experience as a storyteller. "The most consistent comment was that it was very conventional, but very well written. So in the sense of plot or story ideas, it doesnít stand out from the crowd. Itís a very good read, which is all I wrote it to be," Jones says.

Both The Stone and the Maiden and The Mask and Sorceress have been purchased by the Science Fiction
Book Club. However, Jones admits he is unsure of whether or not he will continue in the fantasy genre. "Iím working on a third fantasy novel right now. If it seems to be working, Iíll go on writing them. Who knows? I rarely think father ahead than the book after the one Iím writing," he says.
 

Next month, an interview with a mover and shaker in the RPG industry!.