One thing which was central to my writing of the Inheritance Trilogy was that, after several years of reading genre fiction, there were certain tropes that had stopped working for me. Or, rather, they’d ceased to have impact, and there was a key reason for that: they weren’t written as if the characters within those tropes were real. Instead, they felt, to me, like characters-by-numbers, with characteristics shared between books, and a cardboard outline of what such a character might be.
The sort of tropes that particularly irked me where the ‘the invincible chosen one’, the ‘smart one who does clever things and doesn’t get hurt’ and ‘the evil overlord’. It got to the point where they irked me so much, I decided I’d try to do something different, and write those trope-ish characters as if they were real people, with real emotions, and real relationships. In short, the sort of characters I could find in mainstream fiction and struggled to find in genre. (And I’m open to a debate on that one or, even better, recommendations.)
The trouble with sending up a trope, oh young writer me, is that I needed to write the trope. Which leads to me having a very – shall we be generous and say classical? – set up. I have the heroic chosen one; the smart love interest; the huge, deadly empire; an evil baddy (an Empress is my case); the band of plucky rebels. Which is dangerous and challenging because there is a risk of people tossing it to the side and saying, ‘oh, here we go, another Star Wars, or Dune, or take your pick…’
That someone identified my Empress as something between Harkonnen and the Rev Mother in Dune, and my main character as somewhat Paul-like pleased me. My drawing on the trope had worked. But had my inverting of it?
My chosen one, Kare, is no Paul, not when you delve closer. Kare could be any one of us put into difficult circumstances, and given a fate we’d run from. He’s human. He hurts. He struggles. He doesn’t always overcome. In fact, one of the criticisms of the book has been that, in the end (without spoiling), he doesn’t do what we expect him to do and stand tall and triumphant. Because that’s the trope, not a real person. A real person gets knocked back. They lose confidence, and hope.
I’m not sure what I want people to take away from my book. It’s a dark one, so it’s unlikely to be fluffy bunnies under rainbows. However, on my discussion thread here https://www.sffchronicles.com/forum/jo-zebedee/ several people have commented that I have made them question how they write characters. How close they come to them, and how real those characters can be. I think, if what I achieve, some more rounded characters, even if they’re within the well-trod tropes that I, and so many other, love, I’d be happy. Because that’s the sort of thing I like to read and would love to see more of in genre fiction.
Jo Zebedee lives near Belfast and writes science fiction and fantasy novels, sometimes in her imaginary world of Abendau, sometimes on the streets of Belfast. She’s been writing for four years and her debut novel, Abendau’s Heir, the first of a trilogy, has just been released. Coming over the summer will be her second novel, Inish Carraig, about an alien invasion of Belfast.
When she’s not writing, working or sorting sock-drawers (admittedly not often) she enjoys gardening, cooking, walking and she runs after kids, pets and a husband (not always in that order.)
You can find out more about Jo at www.jozebedee.com, or follow her on twitter on @joz1812. Her Amazon author’s page is here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jo-Zebedee/e/B00VM61TZG/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1 and she also blogs regularly on www.jozebwrites.blogspot.co.uk. Her facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/theinheritancetrilogy
Abendau’s Heir. Waterstone’s Top Ten bestseller, 4.7 rating, Amazon UK, 4.4 Amazon US, 4.83 Goodreads.
‘An awesome read. From start to end.’
‘The sure touch of a first class writer.’
Kare’s seen planets destroyed by the relentless expansion of his mother’s empire. Children killed. His own family murdered. With her power to manipulate minds she may be invincible.
Only Kare might have the power to stop her. He has to try, or face the horrifying future his father foretold. He prepares to return to her city, Abendau. But dark secrets lie in its depths, secrets which will threaten everything: his friends, his loved ones…even his sanity.
Francis Knight, author of Fade to Black.
“A bright and fresh new voice in the genre, brimming with imagination, subtle worldbuilding and engaging characters.”
Ralph Kern, author of Endeavour.
“A dark journey of self discovery; a story as reminiscent of Apocalypse Now as it is of Star Wars”
J.L Dobias, author of Cripple Mode.
“If you love novels that delve thickly into the consequences of the character’s actions this is going to be a treat.”
Right now the publisher has a special Bundle deal – purchase a paperback through www.ticketyboopress.co.uk and we’ll make sure it’s signed, and issue a free ebook, too.
Water dripped down the rock behind Ealyn. He strained, trying to turn his head to lick the wall, but his chains prevented him, the magnetic binding on his wrists too strong to be broken. His captors knew him well enough to use subtle things to torment him: the sound of water, so blessed on the hot, dry, Abendau; the prism on its thin chain catching sunlight from a small window and sending rainbows darting; the slow build of pain in muscles held firm, a pain that went deep, full of despair.
To hell with them: he was staying where he was, aware of who he was, even if his jaw ached from gritting his teeth and his hands had blistered from gripping his chains. Whatever she sent his way, whatever temptation, he’d take it and spit in her face. He closed his eyes against the dancing light.
Footsteps sounded, clipped, not the boots of the guards. He tried to move back, but there was nowhere to go; he was already tight against the wall. He tensed at the hiss of the cell opening. The footsteps stopped, right in front of him; he could feel her watching him.
Oh, gods. He waited, head down. Please let her leave. He clenched his fists, ears alert, his breathing shallow. She was coming so often now, not giving him time to build his strength.
“Tell me a vision of my future,” said the Empress. Her first touch whispered its way past his resolve and he whipped his head to the side, trying to force her away. Once he’d been strong enough, he was sure of it, but after his months held in the cell, this time she held firm. Pain built, deep in his head, a white pain that obscured his thoughts and left only the core of him: the power she wished to use.
“No.” His wrists jerked in their manacles, the magnets’ hard edges rubbing the broken skin beneath. The clean, sharp pain made his mind a little clearer. “No.”
“Tell me.” Her voice demanded obedience.
His eyes opened to a slit. He fought, willing them closed, but his eyelids were forced up. The prism’s light danced across the walls, inescapable, but he willed his focus away and back to the Empress. Her smile chilled him to the bone; she knew he was close to the end, that she was wearing him down. She knew and she enjoyed it, sadistic bitch that she was.
“Give me what I want,” she said, “and I’ll leave you in peace.”
He licked his lips, tongue rasping. She lied: she would come again. He knew better than any that the future was a drug, even for those who only heard it. He shook his head, the effort draining him, and whispered, “No.”
“Look at the prism, Ealyn-Seer.”
He couldn’t stop himself. The light caught his eyes and he fell into the future, moving from the cell, up, up, through the palace to the grand entrance hall. He tried to hold onto the reality of the cell, focus on the pain in his wrists, fill himself with the hatred and anger that had held him to this point, but found himself standing before a stone arch. On a dais to the side a woman and man stood, wearing long acolyte’s gowns, like those of the tribal people of the plains. He was forced to his knees before them. Their minds invaded his, their joint powers – greater than the Empress’, greater than his had ever been – took his thoughts for their own. Rebel, they said, close to him, echoing each other. He ducked his head, trying to hide. Seer, they said, mocking his attempt: rebel-seer-father.
“Look at them.” The Empress’ voice rang out, and he lifted his head. Their eyes were his green. The woman had the sharp chin and high cheekbones of the Empress, the man dark hair falling over a pale face that could be Ealyn’s own. Rebel-seer-father. He looked between them and, finally, sickeningly, knew why he’d been taken.
A wave of exultation ran from the Empress, and he could feel life within her, tiny, not even babies yet. She’d got what she wanted: children born of their combined powers, shaped and moulded to further her empire. Who knew how she’d done it, taken what she needed from him – he’d had a whole series of medical tests when he’d first been captured. It didn’t matter how, only what it might mean. He watched, helpless in his future, as his children pronounced judgement and sentenced him to the torture chambers of Omendegon.
The vision faded. His head sank forward, drained of all energy. Dimly, he was aware of the Empress leaving and the cell door closing, and could feel only relief. The light danced on the rock ground before him, pin-pricks of promise. It would be easy to focus on it, wander the paths ahead and release himself from the hot, dry cell. It was what the Empress wanted: to trap him, his sanity lost, fit only to give her the knowledge her own psyching couldn’t find. To hell with her; he might not be able to stop her, but he was damned if he’d make it easy.
A parrot’s screech startled him. The cell became dappled in warm sunlight. He tried to fight the vision but nothing worked: not pain, not the dripping water. He faded into the future, one where he stood on a jungle-encroached path. Holbec, he decided, near the Banned base. He drew in a sharp breath; if he was back with the Banned, there was a chance he’d get out of the cell. Something buzzed close to his cheek and he lifted his hand to swat it, but the chains of his past self stopped him. The sound of laughter drifted up the path. He turned a corner and two children walked ahead, dark heads together as they talked.
“Hey!” His words were croaked from thirst.
They turned, their green eyes meeting his, the girl’s smile wide, the boy’s fringe dark over his laughing eyes. Ealyn drew in a sharp breath, and spun out of the vision. His. They were his. Just as the cold adults in their acolyte’s gowns were. Two futures, not the same. Hope flared, from somewhere he’d been sure was too buried to come alive again.
Around him the rainbows danced. He could take another look to be sure. He closed his eyes, fighting temptation. That path, the Seer’s path, led to madness; he’d seen it often in others.
But the children had been happy in the jungle, not sad and used and cruel. Somewhere, there was a path to that future. It didn’t matter what it did to him; it didn’t matter if it drove him to his death or madness: he had to find it, not let the Empress ruin his lost children. Decided, he lifted his chin and focused on the prism, seeking the path he needed. And when he didn’t find it the first time, he looked again. And again, leaving the dry cell to walk the paths of time, hope carrying him where nothing else could have.