Category Archives: details in fantasy

Love always wins, but which one?

When people hear the L word, most often they associate it with an amorous setting, chocolate, and flowers, especially around Feb 14. But there’re many different kinds of love. Love for your children and your parents. Love for your land. Love for poetry or music or any other artistic endeavor, your own or someone else’s. Love for a pet. Love for a god.

Sometimes, those loves collide at cross-purposes, and you have to choose one at the cost of another. Those are the most stressful situations in real life and the most interesting in fiction.

My protagonist Eriale from my recent fantasy novel Almost Adept finds herself in such a situation. She meets a man – of course, she does, she is seventeen – and falls in love with him. He occupies her thoughts. She wants to give him anything, shield him from any danger, assist him in any endeavor. She wants to see him smile, hear his voice, share his days. Sadly, she can’t spend the rest of her life with him, no matter how much she wants to, and she knows it.

Eriale is a princess of Varelia. Well, kind of. Her much older half-sister Tamara (they share a father) is Varelian queen by marriage. Like many siblings, the sisters don’t often see eye to eye. Besides, Eriale is a magician, and like any magician, she is strong-willed and independent. She craves freedom to roam the world, to learn new magic, to encounter new mysteries. Rebelling against her sister’s rigid rules, Eriale runs away from home, towards mayhem and adventure, but she could never totally forget her responsibilities. Even if she bickers with Tamara, her sister, she would never endanger Tamara, the queen.

When travels bring Eriale to Grumesh, she falls in love with Kealan, a local courier, but unfortunately, he is not a suitable partner for our wandering princess. Once, he might’ve been, for he was born a high-ranking nobleman. But ten years ago, an aggressive Empire invaded Grumesh, and all the country’s native nobility were disbanded.

Now, Kealan is an outlaw, a leader of the resistance movement, with a price on his head. Even if he stopped fighting the occupants and became a law-abiding citizen, he would still represent a subdued nation. Any alliance between Kealan and the royal house of Varelia would be frowned upon by the Emperor and might cause a diplomatic incident or even armed hostilities between Varelia and the Empire. Eriale would never allow that to happen, would never jeopardize her country’s security for her own pleasure.

Nor would she repudiate her land and family for Kealan’s sake. But she couldn’t deny her love for him either, not to appease the political whimsy of the Emperor. Instead, she chooses a compromise. She would spend as much time with her beloved as she could. She would hear him laugh, savor his touch, relish his kisses. She would bestow the protection of her magic on him, but when the time comes, she would leave him behind. And although she knows her joy is transitory, the knowledge doesn’t diminish her happiness, maybe even makes it more acute.

AlmostAdep180x270J In a similar situation, another girl might’ve followed a different set of priorities and opted to remain with her sweetheart, come what may. Neither love is right or wrong. Eriale’s choice of patriotic love over romantic love is dictated by her personality, but also by the demands of the genre – a high fantasy quest. If my novel was a romance, Eriale’s choice might have been different.

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Fantasy heroes – who are they?

Re-blogged from my site.

My contemplations concern both male and female characters, but for the clarity of writing, I’m using only male nouns and pronouns.

In high fantasy, heroes are habitually princes (long-lost or deposed or otherwise beset by woes) or magicians or soldiers. Almost as often they are poor orphans or criminals: thieves and assassins. I don’t know any respectable shoemakers or tavern keepers who are heroes of high fantasy, unless their shop or farm is no more.

SeamstressConversely, in urban fantasy, which takes place in the alternative version of here and now, heroes most frequently belong to the middle class: bartenders and librarians, computer programmers and dressmakers. There are not many modern fantasy novels where a hero is a ‘prince’, e.g. a movie star or a corporate mogul. Not many poor orphans either, although some pop up occasionally, just like some criminals make their appearance in urban fantasy, but in latter case, they usually work for the government. A CIA assassin – how glamorous!

Why such a disparity in the heroes’ social standings? Fantasy writers have a rationale for their protagonists, just as fantasy tropes are tropes for a reason. Let’s first look at high fantasy, which usually happens in a quasi-medieval society.

Princes – they have education and money, before some villain causes them to flee for their lives, rally their scattered forces, and strike back at their enemy. Princes don’t have ties to the community; nobody depends on them for their livelihood. Pretty useless creatures, princes, at liberty to go anywhere, anytime. Nobody would miss them.

Magicians – they have power of their own, their magic. They can employ it in any city or society; they have no ties to the community or locality either. Quite the opposite, they are often recluses or under vows of chastity or some such. They’re free to roam at will. Magician1

Soldiers – they also have skills they can ply anywhere. They don’t have families or links to the community that depends on them. The same applies to thieves. What is common to all those types – they are independent in their income source and nobody needs them to survive.

Orphans don’t have an independent source of income, but their ties to a place or a community have been severed by irresistible forces. As a result, they’re rootless, blown by the winds of their misfortunes to look for a good life elsewhere.

What about middle class – a shopkeeper or a peasant? Unless his shop or homestead is destroyed and his loved ones killed, he is not free. He has family to support, children to feed, village to appease. Many people rely on him – he has roots and can’t just up and leave for a heroic adventure. It would be considered irresponsible. He must work hard from dawn to dusk, fix the roof after a church service, and pay the guild fee by Friday. He doesn’t have a choice. No food for a fantasy writer there.

Now let’s take a look at urban fantasy – at our society. Here the roles are reversed. Who has the widest choices? Our shop owners and farmers and middle-level employees. Millions of choices. They can switch careers, travel, attend university, go to movies every week, meet new people in bars, gyms, interest clubs, Internet, and so on. The possibilities for fantasy adventures are countless.

How about our soldiers? They’re so boxed in by army regulations that there is almost no room to maneuver for a fantasy writer.

What about our princes and magicians – the super-rich folks and pop icons? If they don’t want to lose their money, they work hard and then drink and do drugs to unwind. At least that is what the gossip pages tell us. Paparazzi follow them, so they’re not free to go anywhere. Can they switch career? Of course, in theory, but it happens so seldom, we never hear of it. Can they become members of a knitting club in a local community center? Yes, but they don’t. Have you heard of even one example? They’re extremely restricted by their names, money, and fame. That’s why they’re almost never heroes of modern fantasy.

Did I simplify in my musing? Yes. Are there exceptions to my conclusions? Definitely. Do you know novels that contradict my findings? Argue with me.

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