Updated: Jan 9
You can read 'Song of the Storm' as an escape, or you can dig a little deeper... #representation #environment #identity #strongwomen #challengingfantasy
Although I’m a great believer in humanity and our ability to make compassionate connections with one another, ‘Song of the Storm’ comes from a place of anger. Anger at those who are selfish, who exploit others and the world around them to further their own pleasures and power. No-one gets punished by karma in this novel. You decide who to judge harshly or sympathetically as your own compass dictates. I think we deserve fantasy that isn’t about good vs evil but how positive and negative forces exert pressure on us and I hope it’s interesting to see where people give in and resist.
“ The main characters in book one come from a racist, sexist society – I liked that Steven Erikson chose to set his novels in a world that had never known gender discrimination, but if doing away with that makes a valuable comment on its existence, it doesn’t allow you to explore the effects on characters’ choices.”
The story is set on the continent of Belaka. It’s not meant to be Britain, but there are similarities: the North/South issues, the meadows and marshes, the deep forests (that Britain has done away with over time), the habitats of people and creatures that are shrinking as greed overbears the balance, the whipping up of the masses for one cause or another. I’ve built a world with new creatures and plants, with a new intelligent species as well as humans, fae, gods and other familiar races. But, while you can read it as escapism, it reflects many of my concerns about how people treat each other, and the environment, allowing us to take a bird's eye view of a land with similar concerns.
The main characters in book one come from a racist, sexist society – although I liked very much that Steven Erikson chose to set his novels in a world that had never known gender discrimination, I hadn’t even considered such a thing when I started writing. But if doing away with gender discrimination makes a valuable comment on its existence, it doesn’t allow you to explore the effects on characters’ choices. I wanted to have characters that were affected by gender and race and class issues and explore those assumptions and outright prejudices. One of my characters casually notes to herself that ‘all Iclans look alike’ in a way that should offend everyone reading. While fighting her own battles to be heard and seen, she absorbs and accepts other toxic messages. I offer thoughts and actions that should provoke negative reactions as often as empathy, not least because they are aspects of rounded characters that you might otherwise identify with or have sympathy for.
I was also dismayed to discover that, having thought I was writing a novel about three strong, complex women, there are more point-of-view characters that are male. Is that to reflect the agency of men? Or, because there are so many interesting male characters in the fantasy I have read, have I drawn from them instinctively and so perpetuated the dominance of males in fantasy fiction? It’s worth reading this N.K. Jemisin interview for more on this idea. Actually, most of the story is told from the women’s perspective because of the story structure and main plotlines, and the men’s views are as often illuminating and problematic as the women’s. It would feel wrong to me not to explore that.
The key theme is, necessarily, ‘becoming’. All three of the main characters have untapped potential, and Sylve’s self-discovery is the main arc of the series. The bonds you make with the family you choose as well as (or rather than) the ones your birth gave you are important to me. In book one, Sylve is forced to make those bonds anew – with no memories, she must construct her own identity in response to the society she is presented with. For her, that’s the way of things. For us, I hope that the idea is terrifying – but it should also allow us to vicariously experience the freedoms, as well as the challenges, of deciding from a clean slate who you become.