I’ve written novels and short stories in the third person, in the first person and in a mixture of both, following intertwining stories. “Irons in the Fire” is a single narrative seen from six different third-person perspectives. That’s a challenge so it wasn’t a decision I took lightly. But as I planned The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, I became convinced this was how this tale must be told.
I first realised how widely accounts of the same events can vary when I compared the Irish history heard at my grandmother’s knee to the version learned at an English girls’ grammar school. There was quite some contrast. Reading more widely, I concluded the elusive truth was somewhere in between. I realised something else. The truth matters but so does the way history is told. It’s never merely dry dates and arid accounts. It’s loaded with emotion from that first draft; originally word of mouth, then newspapers, nowadays the multimedia press. Glance at a news-stand to see how differently a story can be interpreted. Add to that the emotional impact of personal experiences and tragedies that have befallen family and friends.
All too often, the news making those headlines stems from historical misunderstandings, deep-rooted grudges and irreconcilable demands. Look at the recent history of Ireland, the Balkans, the Middle East, and other divided lands and peoples. I’m not going to write about those places though. The thought of researching such convoluted history makes my blood run cold – and I’m someone who likes research! More importantly, I couldn’t do them justice, not to convince anyone who had lived that reality since childhood. Whatever stance I might take, I would undoubtedly offend those thinking differently about such contentious topics.
This is exactly where SF and Fantasy come into their own. Writing about some unreal time or place, SF&F authors have always been able to examine the politics, philosophy and morality of real life unencumbered by cultural baggage. Better yet, we can explore those deeper questions unobtrusively, by way of hinterland to an exciting story. As we engage readers’ emotions with our characters, we can shape our narrative for maximum impact, unburdened by inconveniences of fact. History rarely shapes itself to suit the dramatist.
Luckily I have a divided society sketched into the background of the books I’ve been writing for ten years. (Not that you need to have read those). Lescar is a country divided between six dukes, all striving to become High King. They plot and skirmish and once every generation or so, warfare engulfs them all. Seen from the outside, that’s simple enough. The complexity arises from those different perspectives.
Tathrin was born and raised in the dukedom of Carluse. His family prosper, owning an inn on the high road cutting across Lescar from Caladhria in the west to Tormalin in the east. But he knows how insecure their lives are. He’s seen at first hand the vicious mercenaries hired by Duke Garnot. He’s seen innocent and guilty alike brutalised, unable to retaliate. That’s why his parents have sent him far away, to study in the peaceful city of Vanam. He earns his keep as a servant to richer students. But Tathrin cannot forget where he’s come from. He’s desperate for the ordinary Lescari take a stand. All Lescari, setting aside loyalties to individual dukes in favour of their common good.
One of Vanam’s wealthier students, Aremil has no recollection of Lescar, though he was nobly born in the dukedom of Draximal. Incapacitated since birth and never expected to live, he was sent far away with his nurse. But his wits are as sharp as his body is weak and he sees why Lescar’s sufferings persist. Exiles send coin to save their poor kinsfolk from greedy tax-collectors but that only sustains the dukes’ quarrels in the longer term as they use those revenues to hire more mercenaries. Equally, as long as the fighting stays inside Lescar, Caladhria and Tormalin’s rulers have no interest in forcing a peace. Not while their merchants prosper, buying Lescari materials cheap and selling tawdry goods to people with few options.
If these two men are to see change in their homeland, they must convince women like Failla to help them. She’s deep in Duke Garnot of Carluse’s counsels, raised since childhood to mistrust and despise every rival duke. Her first loyalty is to her family, immediate and extended. Can she be persuaded to look beyond their interests to a greater good? Can she persuade her fellow Carlusians to rise above a lifetime believing tales of deceit and atrocities?
Then there are exiles like Branca, another Vanam scholar. Her parents fled Lescar before she was born and she’s as poor as Tathrin. Lescari emigrants find they’re despised wherever they end up. Ironically, that unites them far more than old quarrels divide them. Branca and her like reserve their contempt for those stubbornly staying in Lescar, too stupid to turn their backs on the squabbling dukes. But Branca and a few fellow Lescari scholars hold the key to a secret that could give this conspiracy a vital advantage.
They will have to think fast and move faster to outwit Duchess Litasse of Triolle. A daughter of the Duke of Sharlac, her marriage is one of petticoat diplomacy not love. She’s no less committed to ensuring her husband’s continued wealth and status though, and yes, the peaceful prosperity of those who owe him fealty. She’s known no other life but sifting intrigue and suspicion, which helps her hide her own secrets all the better.
Then there’s Karn, the Triolle enquiry agent. An orphan of war, he’s grown into a man without conscience or qualms and even more dangerous, he’s both intelligent and shrewd, well used to strangling plots at birth.
Who are the heroes and villains? It all depends on your perspective.