Loss of Identity in Twelve Kings
Today we welcome a good friend of ours, Bradley Beaulieu, to Fantasy-Faction. Bradley’s new novel Twelve Kings has been picking up incredible reviews across the Blogosphere and we wanted to know some more about Bradley’s motivations on certain elements of the novel. Details on where to buy Twelve Kings and find out more on Bradley can be found beneath Bradley’s post. Enjoy!
With Twelve Kings, I really wanted to explore what it meant not merely to lose one’s family, but to lose one’s culture. Our world is constantly changing, and we’re seeing a homogenization of culture across the world. There are places where this is happening faster than others, and there are some places in the world where there is strong resistance to change, but in the end, with modern communication as accessible as it is today, change is inevitable, and we’ll see old ways set aside even more quickly than they have in the past, lost to the industrialization of our world.
I often wonder just what it is we’re losing, though. Language. Culture. Food. Religion. A sense of home, of place. We stand to lose something (one of only many things, I freely admit) that gives us grounding and meaning in the world. That loss is one of the things I wanted to explore in Twelve Kings, and also the notion of regaining it through steady effort, returning to one’s roots, seeking out others who who are part of your tribe to regain a bit of your past.
The main character in Twelve Kings, Çeda, became an interesting case for me as the story grew. The protagonist of any story is the window through which we see the world. But there are some protagonists that know full well what’s happening and dole out information to the reader only as needed. It’s the sink or swim approach to storytelling. Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen is like this, as is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (though I would contend to a smaller degree than Erikson’s books). The reader is by and large expected to keep up in this type of book.
And then there are stories (portal fantasies being a prime example) where the character knows almost nothing about the new world they suddenly find themselves in. Think of stories like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Or Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. In both cases, we have protagonists that have to start nearly from scratch (at least in terms of knowing the new world) which gives the reader a way to consume it in more bite-sized chunks.
In the case of Twelve Kings, Çeda is nineteen when the story opens, but we soon learn that she lost her mother at the age of eight. Çeda certainly understands the world she lives in. She loves Sharakhai and knows its ins and outs. She knows the cultures of the world, at least those that are present in her home, the desert city of Sharakhai. But on the flip side of the coin, because she was so young when she lost her mother, she knows little about the events that led to her mother’s death. She was young when her mother died, after all, and her mother was very secretive as well. And so Çeda knows achingly little about why the twelve kings who rule Sharakhai might have wanted her dead.
Twelve Kings, in other words, falls just about in the middle of this storytelling spectrum, which I rather liked. I’ll admit I largely stumbled onto it, but it allowed me some freedom. On the one hand, I didn’t have to explain everything. I let the reader get a lot through context. But on the other, I was also able to dole out the mystery behind her mother’s death in pieces, which allows the reader to come along for the ride, as it were. All of that allowed me to handle the main theme—loss of family, loss of culture—in a careful manner. Those concepts are hard to absorb, and they can’t pack much punch unless you have a fair amount of context by which to measure them. Writing is as much about trial and error as it is about applying learned technique. I feel fortunate to have found an approach that allowed me to explore some of these ideas in detail. They’re ideas that will take me many novels, perhaps the entire series, to do them justice, and I’m sure my approach to them is going to change over the course of the series as well. But it’s something that resonates with me. And hopefully it does for you too.
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.
Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.