Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by the fantasy author Karen Michalson.
Karen Michalson is currently writing The King’s Glory, the third book in her Enemy Glory series. The first two books in her series, Enemy Glory (2001) and Hecate’s Glory (2003) were originally published by Tor, and were recently self-released. Enemy Glory was a finalist for the 2002 Prometheus Award. It was one of the books that received the most votes for the 2002 Locus Award for Best First Novel and was chosen for Locus’s Recommended Reading List of Best First Novels of 2001. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and her dog.
Click here to visit the author’s official website, where she blogs about the war on the humanities, reading, writing, literature, and culture.
Risingshadow Guest Post by Karen Michalson
Enemy Glory started with a last scene, which became the basis for the novel’s frame. I know this sounds weird, but you asked, so here’s how the series started. I didn’t know this at the time, but it started on a bright, warm, leafy, cheerful June afternoon, a few weeks after I finished my graduate English program. I was sitting at home and doing absolutely nothing, basically because doing nothing for a day was a lovely experience after finishing my program.
Anyway, I kept getting this image, waking dream, lucid vision, I don’t know what to call it, but other writers and creative folk know exactly what I’m talking about. A determined, inscrutably serious nobleman was holding a somewhat younger man at sword point, even though the younger man appeared to be near death. They were in a dark hovel, on a cold, stony piece of land, near a gray body of water. I could “hear” their vocal cadences, experience their emotions, almost feel the warmth inside the hovel contrast with the rain outside. The only thing I knew about these guys was that they had some kind of past, brothers-in-arms type friendship, but that was clearly no longer the case. I did not know what had brought them together in the hovel or why I kept getting this image on a pleasant summer day.
It was odd and intense and not normal for me at the time. I was a sensible young academic looking for work in a university, aspiring to teach 19th century British literature and publish sensible scholarship. I had written my dissertation on Victorian fantasy literature and the politics of its exclusion from the traditional canon, but my acquaintance with modern fantasy literature was pretty much limited to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Anyway, at some point I began writing, screwing around, and a scene just sort of fell out on the page from the point of view of the younger man, who was an evil cleric. I wrote maybe twenty pages over the next three days before I understood I was writing the first chapter of a novel, and that this is what fiction writing feels like from the inside.
It was exciting. Everything changed.
Enemy Glory is literary fiction that fell into an old trunk of fairy tales and fantasy clothes, and decided to play dress up as genre fiction. Even though it takes place in a fictional world of wizards and magic and all the elements readers expect to encounter in fantasy, it reads like an internal, brooding, literary novel. Some readers have called the series Byronic, because of it’s dark Romanticism, but it’s also cynical and satirical. I like that.
In a sense, it’s also Victorian in that it plays with 19th century literary conventions. It’s framed, it has epistolary passages, it’s first person, it’s a revenge novel. I had fun using those conventions in a medieval-inspired fantasy setting. It’s also partly about intense male platonic friendship – something the 19th century held in higher regard and understood so much better than our atomized, e-device, society does. It also explores justice, betrayal, beauty, war, politics, individual choice and its consequences.
It also satirizes organized religion and higher education. Llewelyn’s education in evil clerisy mirrored a lot of things I observed in graduate school.
In the frame, Llewelyn is being tried by his former friend, Walworth, who is now the King of Threle, for murder, treason, and other crimes against the state. His story is his explanation for those acts, for his enmity with Walworth, for their separate moral paths. The tension of course, is whether, given all the facts and circumstances, Llewelyn is actually guilty and deserving of death, and readers have different assessments at different points. Hecate’s Glory, the second book, does end with a verdict, a kind of judgment, and stops at a point of resolution. The two books stand alone as a duology. I left them there, thinking, OK, that was a strange experience, but game over, that’s how it ends. Then I went to law school, ironically enough, and buried myself in legal writing.
I’ve recently felt that there is more to Llewelyn’s story than Walworth’s verdict. So The King’s Glory is in progress. Llewelyn does “survive” his trial. He leaves the North Country with no clear sense of what to do next, but acutely aware that everyone he’s ever had contact with now has an excellent reason to kill him, including his fellow evil clerics. So of course to make things interesting, he receives a horrifying mandate from his deity, Hecate. If he fails to fulfill this mandate before he dies, he will suffer eternal torture. But fulfilling it amounts to a personal, living torture. Choice and its consequences.
No spoilers, but you can expect lots of political intrigue and dark magic.