It’s here! It’s happened! It’s release day!!!!!!
It’s just really exciting!
Hey, and if you maybe want a free copy of Ariah, well, shoot, why not enter this giveaway? It’s open until midnight this Saturday!
I don’t have much else to say except:
It’s here! It’s happened! It’s release day!!!!!!
It’s just really exciting!
Hey, and if you maybe want a free copy of Ariah, well, shoot, why not enter this giveaway? It’s open until midnight this Saturday!
I don’t have much else to say except:
We’re a mere two days out from release day! If you’d like a sneak peak of Ariah, I’ve posted the first chapter here for free! If you like what you read, enter the giveaway! Two lucky entrants will win a free ebook of Ariah! The giveaway closes midnight, Saturday 6/30, so enter now for your chance to win!
There are times I still have nightmares about that first day in Rabatha. I’d come from Ardijan, which is a small place built around the river and the factories. It’s a town that is mostly inhabited by the elves who work the factories with a smattering of Qin foremen and administrators. We outnumber them there. We’re still poor and overworked, we still get hassled, but there is a comfort in numbers. It was a comfort so deeply bred in me that stepping off the train in Rabatha was a harrowing experience. The train, a loud, violent thing that cloaked half the city in steam, plowed right into the center of the city and dropped me off only three streets away from the palace. Even with all the steam, I could see its spires and domes. Even with all the commotion, I could hear the barked orders and vicious slurs of the Qin enforcement agents.
I was searched. My single bag of clothes and books was searched. Everything I had brought with me except my citizenship papers was confiscated, including what little money I had. I was one of exactly seven elves on that train, and all of us were detained, and all of us were robbed. On the train, the seven of us had shared a single compartment. I knew, intellectually, that the train was full of Qin people, but I was with my own, like I had always been, and the nearness of that truth was lost on me. The train station was a sea of brown skin and fangs. I came to Rabatha for training, and as is traditional I came to my mentor on my thirtieth birthday. Thirty is when we consider a child to be grown. Before I got on that train, I felt grown. I felt adult. I felt ready. But when I looked around and saw no one who looked like me, it scared the thoughts right out of my mind. I was thirty, but I felt like a child.
So it was that I arrived alone in Rabatha, penniless and empty-handed. I arrived and had the securities of my youth brutally ripped away. I also arrived in the mid-afternoon, with only a few hours before curfew to find the man who would be my mentor. My parents had made me commit his address to memory, which had been good foresight, but the shock of the train station drowned the memory of it. All I knew was that he lived in the Semadran borough, and the Semadran boroughs inevitably sprang up on west side of town. That’s where the Qin like us to be. They know that magic in the westlands is stronger than in the east, and so they prefer to live east of anything and everything. I went west. I got to the borough without incident, though the walk took three hours. I was born in the summer, so it was a miserably hot day. I thought I’d die of thirst, but I wasn’t brave enough to ask anyone for water, not even other elves.
I never found his place. No matter how hard I wracked my brain, I couldn’t remember the address. He found me. The borough in Rabatha is cramped—it houses twice as many elves as Ardijan, in half the space—but Semadran boroughs are alike all over. The center had a schoolhouse. Elvish homes were planted around it in ever-widening circles, all facing outward, like sentries. When you are Semadran and you are lost, or hurt, or in need, you find the schoolhouse, and eventually what you need finds you there.
I made it to the schoolhouse a little before dusk fell, just when the streets were beginning to empty. I sat on the steps, cowering in the schoolhouse’s shadow. It was a stately building, two floors tall with real glass windowpanes. I don’t know how long I sat there. My mind was numb, my body was sore; I was tired inside and out. I hated everything about everyone. I was well-entrenched in these thoughts, the arrogant and bitter thoughts very young men think, when my mentor found me. “Are you Ariah?” he asked.
I looked up. I didn’t know whether or not to answer him. I didn’t know before then that Dirva was not fully Semadran. I am certain my parents didn’t know. My father likely would not have cared, but it would have been a deal breaker for my mother. It would have been hypocritical of her, but she had her standards, and she stuck to them.
I have always felt conspicuous. I have always been conspicuous. There is red blood in my family, and red blood rises to the surface. Both my mother and I have her mother’s green eyes. My mother even has freckles. I just have the green eyes; everything else about me is appropriately silver. My green eyes had always been an ambivalent thing for me. My father loves them, loves difference. My mother thinks them a curse. It is true that she and I got strange looks, that there were children growing up who were encouraged to play with boys other than me. And it’s true that some sought me out, curious and fascinated. As I said, I was very young then, and I had not yet lived enough or grown enough to know really how I felt about my diluted blood.
When you’re very young and you’re different, you begin to believe that no one has ever been as different as you and that no one has ever felt that difference as keenly as you. But there was Dirva. He was a tall man and broad-shouldered, a big man. He was a dark man, with skin a deep, deep gray, nearly black. And his hair was the same color—inky black. His eyes were green, like mine, but they were green in a vibrant and forceful way, the pupils a hair too small and the irises a hair too wide. He had whites in the corners of his eyes. He was a man with blood a far sight more muddled than my own, a man who looked like he had at least a dash of mundanity in him. His blood was so muddled that my mother’s suspicions took root. I didn’t answer. It was the strangest thing, but I felt when I saw him that I’d seen him before. I knew I hadn’t, but I felt it anyway. It made me trust him less.
He frowned and glanced out at the street. The shaper in him had cut its teeth on noticing the fear and disgust of those around him. He held out a hand to me anyway. “I am sure you are Ariah. I am Dirva. We have corresponded.”
There was nothing to do but take his hand. I was there in that unknown city, alone, with no money. I could not have gotten back to Ardijan. I knew no one else in Rabatha. All I had was him. “I am glad to meet you,” I said.
He laughed. Like most people, he has many laughs. This one was sharp and cold. He looked me over and sighed. “Oh, you came on the train.”
“You have had a long day.”
Suddenly the weight of it all bore down on me. I felt tears well up. Oh, it was awful; the shame of it was a force to drown in. I wrapped my arms around myself and stared at the ground. I nodded and somehow managed not to cry. I felt I would die if he saw me cry, if that was the first thing about me he saw.
He took me gently by the elbow and led me down the street. “I have had long days, too,” he said.
“Tomorrow will be kinder.”
* * * * *The next morning, I woke facing The Reader. The actual painting, the original. At first I thought it was a dream. When he is not working the assembly line, my father is an artist who specializes in portraits. He is something of an expert on the Nahsiyya Movement. He has copied The Reader himself for at least a dozen dignitaries. He invented a press to print paintings with a high level of fidelity. He prints books of art, and his books end up in Qin libraries all over. Every one of those books has a print of The Reader in it. In short, I was extremely familiar with this particular painting, this monstrously famous painting, which inexplicably hung on the wall in a cramped set of rooms in an elvish ghetto.
Food sizzled in the kitchen, and it smelled slightly strange. I crept out of bed, barefoot and timid, and studied the painting, which my father himself had seen only once. It had hung in a gallery in Tarquintia for a fortnight many years ago, and my father spent all of his money to get there and see it. He wanted to drink it in, absorb it, let it burn into his mind so he could replicate it again and again. No one was entirely sure what had happened to it after that. No one besides me, Dirva, and the artist.
My father’s copies are excellent copies, but they are still copies. The copies couldn’t quite show the way the bold lines captured movement and obscured it at the same time. The palette was brighter than in the copies—the blues and the greens burned bright and ice-cold at once. I think it might have been a matter of the medium, of his use of ink instead of oil paints. The paint gave it a dimensionality lacking in the prints. The artist slapped it on thick, in ridges that cast subtle, shifting shadows. The shadows made the subject look like he was breathing, like he was just about to turn the page. I studied the figure: a black-skinned boy with black hair and green eyes. He wore a subtle smirk. He had broad shoulders and long, graceful fingers. It was a face I’d seen a thousand times before, and it dawned on me as I stood there that it was a face I had seen the day before.
Curiosity got the better of me. I crept around the corner and peered into the kitchen. Dirva was at the stove. I watched him for some time, star-struck, before he noticed me there. “You survived the night,” he said. “Are you hungry?”
“I…yes?” I said, though it came out closer to a question. He glanced at me quickly. His eyes were overly expressive; you could tell precisely where he looked. He is a reserved man, but his eyes give him an air of penetrating intensity.
“Did you sleep well? Will the cot suffice?”
“Yes?” Again it came out like a question.
He turned towards me. It was then I learned he is not a patient man, that he has a brusqueness rooted to the core of him. “You seem to have some question for me. It would make sense for you to have questions, considering the circumstances. You should ask it.”
“You should ask your question.”
I blinked. I likely blushed. “I don’t have any questions.”
Dirva stirred the food, but kept his gaze pinned on me. “If you have no questions then there is little I can do for you as a mentor. Curiosity is a virtue, so say the wise.”
“The wise say curiosity, in moderation and used with tact, is a virtue.”
He frowned slightly. “Just ask it. Whatever it is, just ask it.”
“There’s nothing to…” He looked at me again. I laughed erratically, nervously, and he frowned a little more. “I have…I have just a little question for you. I guess. You don’t have to answer it. I didn’t ask because…I don’t know…it struck me that the answer might be personal? I didn’t want to pry. There’s no reason for me to even know the answer, whatever it is, and…”
“Ariah. Please, just ask it,” he said, turning his attention back to the stove.
So I asked it. “Is that…is that the actual Reader? The original?”
My mouth fell open. “How?”
“How is it here?”
“Where there are borders and guards, there are also smugglers, Ariah,” said Dirva. “It was smuggled to me.”
“It must have cost a fortune.”
“I am sure it cost quite a lot to smuggle it, yes, but it cost me nothing. It was a gift.” He turned away from me. He opened his mouth to change the topic.
And I couldn’t let him do it. My heart thudded against my ribs. I had to know. “Is that you? Are you The Reader?”
He froze. His eyebrows knit together, then he sighed and looked over. “Your father is an artist. He mentioned that. You know about art. Yes. It’s me.” He pulled the skillet off the stove and emptied the contents into a bowl. He gestured at the table and laid out flatbread for each of us. I sat across from him and scooped up some of the potatoes and peppers in a bit of flatbread. They had been spiced with something uncommon in the Empire, which was not bad, but was unfamiliar. I couldn’t help but stare at him. It was him, undeniably him, but he had none of the magnetism or quiet enthusiasm of the figure in the painting. The sharpness was there, the quickness, but in the painting, as a boy not much older than myself, he looked happy. Across the table, as a man approaching middle age, he seemed mostly irritable. How did one grow into the other?
“Please don’t stare,” he said. His eyes flicked up at me when he said it. I tried to stop, but I couldn’t quite do it. I resorted to staring at him from the corner of my eye while pretending to be very much interested in the floor. He let out a short, impatient noise. “It is me. Yes, I know the painter. I trained in the City of Mages, and I knew Liro when I was young. He sent me this painting some years ago. Please don’t ask me why he did such a fool thing. He was always prone to grand gestures. I do not follow art closely, but I know enough to know that, if word got out it was here, I would be very quickly robbed. Please don’t say anything to anyone about it. Do not write of it in your letters to your father, for example. I do not want to be robbed. Do you have any other questions?”
I stopped chewing. I swallowed. I felt vaguely sheepish. I cut a quick glance at the painting, just visible through the doorway, then back at him. “Just one.”
He flicked one hand at me, dismissively, irritably, and rested his forehead in the palm of his other hand. “Ask.”
“I’ve always wondered. What are you reading? In the painting, what book is it that you’re reading?”
Dirva looked up at me. “That’s your question?”
“That is an odd question.”
“Well, it’s, uh . . . it’s my question.”
Dirva smiled. He stood up from the table and went into the other room. I followed closely at his heels. He studied the painting and began to laugh. “I’ve never looked. You know in all these years, I never looked. It could have been anything. It’s not really a book.” He covered his mouth with his hand and looked over at me. His eyes were bright; they crinkled happily at the edges. It brought out a warmth in him that I had not thought he had. When he looked at me like that, conspiratorial, surprised, that was when I began to trust him. That’s when he became my mentor, and I became his student. He laughed again. “I am not proud of this. I can’t believe he painted me like this. That’s not a book. That’s my brother’s diary. I’d stolen it. I used everything I read in there to get under his skin. He never knew I read it.”
As I’ve mentioned in other posts , Ariah is set in the same secondary universe—Aerdh—as many of my other pieces of fiction. If curious to see where Ariah fits in chronologically to those other pieces of Aerdh-based fiction, check out this handy timeline I made below!
The width of the boxes above corresponds to the timeline below: longer boxes mean the story covers more years. The height of the boxes corresponds to the word count of the piece: taller boxes mean the story took more words to tell.
The blue boxes are “canon” works—those which have been published or accepted for publication. I consider something canon when it’s accepted for publication because that’s the point at which I stop fiddling with it, and it becomes a fixed point in the world of Aerdh; these works serve as scaffolding, or the ‘bones’ of the other works.
The gray boxes are unpublished works that are ready or very nearly ready to be submitted for publication. They’re included to give you a sense of scope and the degree of overlap between my Aerdh-based fiction.
A defining trait of Ariah is the presence of magic. It’s a key element of the world of Aerdh, the book’s setting, and it’s a defining feature of the titular character. The fact that Ariah is, among other things, a magical creature, gets the narrative going—the book starts with him seeking out a mentor who will guide him to mastery over his magical gifts. Such training is traditional for Semadran elves like him, and his particular combination of gifts are rare enough that finding a suitable mentor takes him far from home. Ariah’s gifts are strong enough, formidable enough, that he eventually must take on a second mentor even farther from home to fully understand himself.
Writing fiction is an art defined by choice. So, what drove my choice to weave magic into this book, and to place it so prominently? What makes magic, as an idea, valuable to the reader? And what makes magic, as a fact in Ariah’s world, valuable to him and those around him?
The truth is that magic as an idea is only as valuable as I make it to the reader and to Ariah. It is a clear case of “show, don’t tell.” I can tell you it’s valuable—but unless I shore up that claim with worldbuilding and details and narrative tension then you, as the reader, won’t feel that value. It won’t add anything to your experience of the book.
For Ariah, the value of his magic is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it grants him great insight into those around him. It makes him prescient; it makes him astute. Given his social position as an elf in a Qin-led society, there is value in this. Anyone who has ever been marginalized knows that it pays to pay close attention to those in power. It’s always useful to be the most knowledgeable man in the room. Over the course of the book, his magic saves his life and others’ lives quite literally.
But there is a danger to his magic, too. As protective as his magic can be, the use of Ariah’s magic has the potential to get him arrested, impressed into military service against his will or rejected by friends and loved ones. The use of it sometimes comes at a steep cost for complex, layered reasons: issues of personal privacy, issues of cultural confusion and purity, issues of outright oppression. All of these things weigh on Ariah’s mind in the moments when he must decide when to use his magic and when not to.
For me, a recurrent theme in Ariah is the toll exploitation takes on marginalized people. This is best captured in the relationship the Qin Imperials have towards the Semadran elves’ magic—they use it, constantly, to improve the Empire, but berate it, constantly, as unclean and impure. Elves with a facility for what is called patternwork (something akin to real-world engineering) are assigned work in research laboratories and paid a pittance to design bigger, better factories and military machinery. Those elves continue to live in the ghettos while the Qin profit off their magically influenced creations. Ariah and his mentor, Dirva, get work as linguists, helping to translate in diplomatic parleys between far-flung ambassadors. That Ariah and Dirva know these languages and can learn them extremely quickly due to their magical biological wiring only seems to matter functionally insomuch as it means they can be paid very little.
The Qin have evolved religious reasons why magic is impure. Rationales always spring up to explain away injustices and support the status quo; this is a social fact. By the time Ariah tells his story, these rationales have been ensconced in law, codified and enshrined. His life is structured such that the Qin are able to get the maximum value out of his magic while he reaps the least amount of profit from it—because he is impure for having magic in the first place.
But magic, because it so totally shapes how Ariah perceives and relates to the world around him, also becomes a primary means of his small acts of resistance against the system exploiting him. In the doing, Ariah exists in that tension between the value and the danger of his magic for much of the book.
Much of Ariah is set in the capital city of the Qin Empire, Rabatha. This is where Ariah receives his training with his mentor Dirva. This is where Ariah inevitably returns—twice—after living elsewhere. This is, for a long time, where Ariah calls home.
Rabatha is a bustling city, a place of great political clout, nestled in the heart of the desert Empire. It is an urbane city: universities, libraries, art galleries, exotic markets, the very first clockwork train station. It is the jewel of the Empire. And it also has ghettos.
Ariah, because the Qin have deemed his skills useful to a point, is able to catch glimpses of both sides of Rabatha. He lives in the Semadran districts, but he works in the Qin areas, so he sees this contrast between how his people are forced to live compared to the Qin.
Ariah’s experience of Rabatha is very loosely based on my own experience living, for a
short time, in Fez, Morocco. I spent time there as a study abroad student in a program focused on cultural psychology; half the time in the program was spent there, and the other half of the time was spent in Tartu, Estonia. It was an immersion program—we learned what we could of the languages (I was terrible at that) and had homestay placements. We took history courses and modern culture courses. We were mostly white college students, and we were cultural tourists, and we bore our immense privilege on our sleeves most of the time. I am exceedingly grateful for the experience.
Morocco stuck with me. It has a deep and fascinating history—every place does. But something about it really stuck with me. My homestay placement was with a family who lived in the new part of the city, the part of the city that had been built by the colonial French. They lived in a beautiful modern apartment—top floor, overlooking the entire city, with a beautiful view of the mosques with their reaching minarets. I remember the building had a doorman. I remember feeling some class shock at that growing up the way I did in the States. I spent most of my time in the medinas, the old city, with its winding narrow streets with walls so high it seemed always in perpetual twilight. The medina was the original Fez, but when the French took the city they forced the Moroccans to move there—all of them. It became a ghetto. It still is a ghetto; the people there are uniformly poorer than the family I stayed with. Poorer and more traditional—the women there wore hijabs; the women in the family I stayed with did not.
But it gets more complicated than that. If you dig further into the medina, you find the mellah. There was a period when Jews lived in Morocco, and at that time, they were forced into ghettos of their own, these small pockets of blue-washed walls where they were separated from the rest of the population. They are haunting places.
I think about these evolving relationships—new city, old city; new city, medina, mellah—quite frequently still, ten years later. It was this complexity I wanted to capture in the fictional city of Rabatha.
Hi friends! Today I have for you a tour of the book’s cover. This Prezi calls out why certain elements were called out in the cover art and the relevance they have to the story. I want to thank C. Bedford once again for her incredible art!
We are a week out from Ariah’s release! Not that I’m counting the days or anything. Not that I have a series of posts labeled “Countdown” or anything.
We’re just a single week out from the release and I thought I’d try and get you as excited as I am about Ariah by sharing with you some early reviews:
Amanda Smith on Goodreads writes:
The action is driven by relationships, by love, and the ties that bind friends, lovers, and families together.
Ariah’s journey uses a carefully crafted fantasy world to explore the influence of deeply entrenched and often narrow social rules, expectations, and traditions and how those rules end up shaping our lives if we allow them to.
Hunter on Goodreads writes:
Sanders writes compelling personal struggles in a detailed, fantastic setting. The themes of queerness, family, and belonging will speak to a lot of people.
And last but not least, a Publisher’s Weekly review of the ABNA 2013 manuscript of Ariah said:
Set in a beautifully crafted fantasy world where races of elves uneasily coexist, and most are under the dominant hand of the brutal Qin, this poetic coming-of-age saga is focused on relationships and how “all of us exist in a web of other people, tethered to them and pulled by them this way and that.” The elf Ariah is apprenticed in a strange country to teach him control of his two magical gifts: perfect mimicry and the ability to read and shape the emotions of others. He trains with Dirva for several years and is groomed to be a linguist like his teacher.
But what could have been a mundane life of good-enough takes a turn toward the extraordinary when Dirva is called back to his home country and Ariah accompanies him. That’s when Ariah’s real journey begins, as his training ends abruptly and he develops the relationships that will become critically important in his life. Moving from obedient and docile to reckless, self-sabotaging and disastrously unformed, Ariah is a marvelous protagonist whose mixed blood sets him apart even in the elvish ghetto. There are bandits and pirates and elven queens and magic; treks across the desert, brutal slavery and racial discrimination. The author’s skill at blending classic elements makes the story fresh and exciting. Splendid prose and an absorbing story are built on realistically complicated, well-developed characters and relationships, and the explorations of pride, vanity, humility, love, philosophy, and sexuality make this vivid tale of Ariah’s journey towards maturity a must-read.
Being gay, lesbian or bisexual isn’t an issue. Homophobia is the issue. While it’s a significant problem in the real world, I think that leaving it behind in a fantasy world is a wonderful and empowering way to say that being gay really is OK.
The above quote was written by Malinda Lo in regard to her novels Ash and Huntress. She writes about how in creating the secondary fantasy worlds in which her queer characters live she as the writer was presented with a choice—are these worlds homophobic, or are they not? Will her characters experience stigma for their queerness, or will their queerness simply be another kind of love?
I read Lo’s article just this week, but it got me thinking about why and how I created one of the cultures within Ariah. Towards the end of the book, in desperate straits, Ariah is forced to wander the eastern grasslands where the nomadic Droma elves live. The Droma elves are a hunted people—taken as slaves by both the Qin Empire where Ariah himself hails from and by the pirate colonies to the south of the Empire. The fact that they are hunted makes them necessarily wary of outsiders. The fact that they trickle into the Empire as slaves means that Ariah, who has a great facility for languages, has already learned to speak Droma by listening to the slaves at market.
One thing about the Droma language that has fascinated Ariah long before he ever meets the Droma in the grasslands (he keeps his distance from the slaves) is that they do not define gender as he himself does (or as most people in the real western world do):
And there was the question of gender, too. At first, it seemed binaristic like most other languages, like Qin and Semadran. There were terms for male and female, differentiations I heard the slaves use for those not of their culture and for animals. But I never heard them use such distinctions towards themselves. It took me some time to parse it, but it became increasingly clear that the Droma did not understand themselves as men or women, but simply as people. The slaves in the city, likely as a means of survival, acknowledged that we divided ourselves as such, and they must have understood that we divided them that way, too, but in the conversations I overheard they only ever used variations on the word voe—the Droma word for “person”—to refer to other Droma and themselves. It fascinated me—how could something so fundamental and so obvious as gender go unseen among them? And what did it mean? How could I be myself without being a man? I wanted very much to understand it, but it was elusive and exotic and always just out of my reach. I couldn’t help but gender them while listening: that one is a male person who is speaking to a female person went my thoughts.
Once Ariah is out in the grasslands, his only hope of survival is to be adopted by a Droma clan. When, by a stroke of luck, he is adopted by a Droma clan, he is confronted with this question of gender (or, rather, the lack of it) again:
I remembered the strangeness of Droma gender. I tried very hard to ignore all the signs of biological sex, to see the child as a person, as voe. If I was to encroach on their lands and ask for their help in survival, I felt the least I could do was get this one basic thing right. But it was hard. It took a very long time before it was easy, or natural, and even then it was hard.
So, here’s the thing about the Droma: to many of you out there they may seem strange. To me, they don’t. I’m genderqueer. I would fit right in. I didn’t set out to build a culture around that, one where I would fit right in—and actually I probably would only fit in in terms of gender because I really hate moving and am otherwise unsuited to a nomadic lifestyle. But the Droma evolved into an agender/genderqueer culture in my worldbuilding quite naturally. When it came time to decide, explicitly, whether they had genders it was easy for me to decide that they didn’t, largely for the reasons that Lo cited above.
Being trans* and/or gender-variant isn’t an issue. Transphobia and unexamined binarism is the issue.
Now this is already a long post, I know, but if you want to know more about what I mean by that, feel free to keep reading. I take a very materialistic approach to worldbuilding, especially as it regards to gender roles within a given culture. And, historically, cultures marred by a lack of resources—cultures characterized by lack and want—develop into very rigid gendered structures. Protection of lineage, parentage, and all that.
But the opposite often proves true as well. If the population is small, and if resources are abundant, then there’s no pressing need to pay strict attention to gender—note that paying strict attention to gender is code for controlling women’s bodies. But it could also mean literally just noticing and codifying gender period.
So, for the Droma, for whom the grasslands provide plentiful resources, and for whom roles in the clan are divvied up based on age and skill, gender literally doesn’t come up. Food and other resources are shared. Childrearing is communal, so lineages are not tied to inheritance or wealth or even parentage the same way they are in, say, the Qin Empire. It is a culture in which gender does not make sense. Even though the Droma have the same biological plumbing as Ariah (as you and I do), it’s still a culture where gender as a social construct does not make sense.
One wonders what kind of culture shock this means for the Droma who get taken as slaves—this is not yet something I’ve explored in my writing. Something I do know is that it has created a kind of minor reverse culture shock in some of my beta readers. At least one of the quotes above was added in edits due to feedback received because a reader thought Ariah adjusted to the Droma’s concept of gender too quickly.
I’ve said before that I like speculative fiction’s ability to pose radical ‘what ifs’. I think this is one of those for me. What if such a culture existed? What would it be like? For me, those are powerful questions worth asking.
Today’s post is essentially a post-mortem. This is a short history of how Ariah the book came to be written, and then how it came to be published. I am always interested in that kind of contextual backstory, so I thought maybe some of you out there might be interested in it, too. Remember, you can pre-order Ariah here!
In case you missed it, I was invited to participate in The Written Word, Zharmae’s weekly radio show. The live show took place yesterday afternoon, and the focus was on food in fantasy book. Both Christy Jones, author of Trinka and the Thousand Talismans, and I discussed food in fantasy literature in depth–everything from GRR Martin’s love of bacon to the way food symbolizes trust in fairy tales. The episode is definitely worth a listen, and you can hear it for free here!
I wanted to make sure my faithful blog readers were not left out of the Radio Z fun, though. On the show I shared this excerpt from Ariah:
I wandered east, endlessly east. After three days of travel, just as my supplies began to run out, I found a river and followed it further east. I survived mostly on edible water grasses and fish. I felt guilty about the fish until I managed to snare and eat a rabbit. I wept when I killed it and skinned it, and wept again when I ate it. It was a struggle to keep the meat down; the wrongness of it was overwhelming. Still, I needed the protein badly. After that first rabbit, I became carnivorous and killed and ate whatever animals I could.
This scene takes place nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. Ariah has faced capture, and has just managed to escape. By this point in the book the reader knows that Ariah was raised in a vegetarian culture–we have seen him turn down meat dishes politely, thoughtlessly, out of habit more than once.
Semadran culture, in which Ariah was raised, lives under the thumb of the Qin. The level of structural oppression the Semadran elves like Ariah live with due to the Qin leaks into every part of their culture–right down to the food they eat. They live in poverty, so richer and more caloric foods (like meat) are much harder for Ariah’s community to come by. Ariah’s people live in restricted neighborhoods with enforced curfews, far from the fresh markets, so food that spoils quickly is not practical, either. A plant-based diet is more practical.
But on an ethical/spiritual/political level (these things are tied together in complex ways for Semadran elves), there is another level of meaning here. Semadran elves are decidedly nonviolent, and this extends to their diet. In a social position where they find themselves mercilessly beaten, imprisoned, executed often by the Qin, one form of resistance may be a refusal to eat another being.
All of this rushes to the surface in this scene where Ariah, forced by circumstance, first eats a fish and later eats a rabbit. He has to do it. He has to eat that rabbit to stay alive. He knows this, but in the doing, he confronts a lifetime of enculturation. And he comes undone.
He comes undone, but his body overrides his shame and guilt. He so badly needs the nutrients and the protein that his hesitance is quickly overcome. This becomes the new normal for him at a pace which disturbs him.