Please note that the below article was created as a guest post for The Hufflepuff Nerdette. You can read other wonderful interviews at her blog: https://thehufflepuffnerdette.wordpress.com
I think there is some truth in admitting that I have always been drawn to darker children’s movies and books. From The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien, to The Dark Crystal and even Nightmare before Christmas, I have grown up having this love-hate relationship with stories that are eerie and unnerving. This almost unsatisfied thirst for tales that ride that thin line which marks the barrier of one’s own comfort level has influenced me in my current tastes in fiction. As an adult, this love of the unsettling pulls me towards books and TV series in the grimdark category like A Song of Ice and Fire by George. R. R. Martin and The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman.
As a writer, my style of books which I create in the Young Adult and New Adult categories of high fantasy reflects these earlier influences. My debut series, The Incarn Saga, is first and foremost a tale of war that ravages a kingdom. The first book, Issaura’s Claws, follows the story of seventeen-year-old Lluava as she is drafted, trained and then experiences the horrors of war. Through her eyes you come to learn and understand the harsh necessities of violent actions in order to protect those you love.
To give you some context, the Kingdom of Elysia contains two races of beings who begrudgingly coexist: humans who are the patriarchal rulers that had conquered the native race of Theriomorphs several generations ago. Theriomorphs differ from humans in that they have the ability to transform into an animal form. When brutal invaders from across the sea attack Elysia, humans and Theriomorphs must fight side-by-side or risk destruction.
Lluava is a female Theriomorph who is quite familiar with facing adversity. She is naturally strong-willed and fiercely protective in both her human and animal form—the white tigress. Yet being a strong and skillful fighter does not prepare one for the bloodier consequences from acts of war. The recently published sequel, Ullr’s Fangs, takes this a step further. Not only are there harsher physical ramifications but psychological ones as well that affect the characters in the books.
But why write about war? Why choose topics that incorporate a lot of violence? I have often thought about these questions. Well, just like what drew me towards certain books, movies and TV series, war and the violence that it entails is utterly complex, emotionally charged, painful, and if you’re lucky, possibly rewarding.
War is not pretty. War is not straightforward. Personal enemies do not have to be evil and allies are not always blameless and noble. A hero can be brought down in a simple act of pure vengeance after a loved one has perished. A villain can demonstrate some semblance of humanity once the rational for their actions is revealed. Then there is the absolute and utter loss of control in a battle situation. Many books and other media choose to glorify war or at the very least make light of the situation. Frequently in fantasy, the hero and his/her comrades survive after a mighty fight defeating the enemy once and for all. Sore, tired but with minimal losses, these companions end up returning to their friends and families in glory. I will admit, I still enjoy good adventure stories like this whitewashed version of war.
Reality is different. The “good guys” do not always win. The villains are not always slain. The truth in war is that chance and luck often determine who survives amidst battle. Chaos reigns. Friendly fire injures or kills your own comrades. And the utter loss of control is terrifying even with the best laid plans. In my books, I choose to draw attention to some of these less appealing aspects of battle. Not all my characters survive. Not all of them die in heroic, self-sacrificing ways. These are not spoilers but an admission of the style of stories I create.
Now what about love? In such a gloomy, volatile scenario is there room for such a polar opposite emotion? Of course! Love is one of the most irrational yet resilient driving forces. The love Lluava has for her family is what motivates her to answer the call to war. The love between a pair of soulmates can cloud minds and cause them to make poor choices in the desperate hope to save their partners. The love of a parent for a child is boundless. The love of one’s country can cause a civilian to bear arms and confront an enemy. Love is powerful…but not always kind. Loss of love can cause violent acts out of rage or sorrow. Love can misdirect good judgment. Love can be used as a weapon to manipulate others. In order to protect oneself from hurt, a person can avoid falling in love. Yet even in the midst of war, this powerful emotion can take root and blossom, even in one as strong-willed as Lluava.
Ultimately, I enjoy books that incorporate all aspects of love and violence. Just like any well-rounded character, these intangible, emotional forces are multifaceted. Love can be romantic, chaotic, tragic, and cruel. Violence can be result from well-intended reasons or a sheer vindictive nature. Both love and violence deserve to be fully explored within the context of the story; it would be a shame to do less, would it not?