Hands of the King took me seven years to write. I didn't mean to write that much.
Originally, it was an eight to ten chapter story on how Denethor and Finduilas fell in love, and was supposed to end with their betrothal. Then it took on a life of its own, with the characters demanding to be written and not always as I had intended.
I hadn't touched it or re-read it in a long time until I rebuilt Rómenna, so it's a bit of an amazing re-discovery. I had forgotten a lot of the details, particularly in these early chapters.
My goal when I set out with the story was to offer, if you will, a secular humanist take on Denethor, one that refuses to demonize him, but who treats him as a tragic character who would not accept the fate set for him. He dared to challenge the divine.
With the current state of religious fanaticism in the world, I grow increasingly revolted by the pietists who promote a vision of their deity that excuses the various acts of inhumanity they choose to perform and/or allow. I read LotR and am entranced by the world building and horrified at the philosophy. HotK is a rebuttal of that treatment of the world and the mortals who inhabit it.