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Escapism and Social Commentary

You can read 'Storm in the North' as an escape, or you can dig a little deeper... #classpolitics #environment #identity #strongwomen


Although I’m a great believer in humanity and our ability to make compassionate connections with one another, ‘Storm in the North’ 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. Everyone acts as they do because they get it into their heads that they must. Then you decide who you judge harshly or compassionately as your own compass dictates.


“ The main characters in book one come from a racist, sexist society – I liked that Stephen Eriksson 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 of the tales I grew up on that now no longer stand. 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 new intelligent races as well as some that you’d expect. But, while you can read it as escapism, it reflects many of my concerns about how people treat each other, and the environment, in our society today.


Class politics is an overt theme in the novel. Each of the point-of-view characters is explicitly affected by their social status and their choices are constrained (or otherwise) because of it. Some people are starving while others conspicuously consume. Some are forced to trade away aspects of themselves to meet their basic needs while others are able to utilise resources that most couldn’t dream of. Magic is a form of privilege and, because the gods are widely revered, religious faith is too. People with platforms to shape the agenda do so as if by right.


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, but it’s closer than I’d like.


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. I intend to explore the bonds you make with the family you choose as well as (or rather than) the ones your birth gave you. 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.



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