The River Kings’ Road, the first novel by Liane Merciel, introduces her world of Ithelas. It’s the tale of a knight caught between conflicting desires, a poor woman struggling to save a child, and the fate of kingdoms hanging in the balance. Liane was kind enough to answer some questions about the creation of her world and her writing process.
What came to you first: your characters, their world or their dilemma?
Yesss, starting with the easy ones. Thanks. 😉
The world came first. I’ve been working in and on the world of Ithelas for about ten years as part of an online RPG I used to run (and still occasionally run when I have time, although that is not very often these days). It’s changed enormously over that time, and the version used in the books is itself substantially different from the game version, but one way or another I’ve been playing in this sandbox for a while.
The characters were the next step. I took a sample of people who could give different perspectives into that world: some who were native to the region, others who were foreigners. Some men, some women. People who had special talents with magic or sharp pointy objects, and people who couldn’t wield anything deadlier than a bread paddle. Your usual motley six-pack for high fantasy.
After that, of course, I was stuck trying to find something that could bring all these disparate people together and put them into motion for a plot. Then I thought: what is one concern that transcends gender, social class, and nationality? What’s something that anybody could care about? A baby!
Tie a baby to the train tracks and you’ve got yourself a story. So there’s the starting dilemma.
Tell us about your hero, Kelland. The story has him caught between two seemingly unreconcilable choices; was that always your plan?
Kelland is a Knight of the Sun, a bit like a Templar (minus the banking), who gets pulled into the plot because of his unique magical powers and social position. Of all the characters in the story, he’s probably the one who has to juggle the most conflicting imperatives: he has to uphold the values of his faith but also maintain its political neutrality; he can’t be seen to support one secular ruler over another, even though they’re all trying to use him to bolster their own prestige and he needs their goodwill to do his job; he has to protect innocents but also bring evildoers to justice (and, oh, it can be impossible to do both those things at once!). On a personal level, he’s torn between the desires of his heart and the duties of his position, with the added complication that if he makes the wrong choice, he’ll lose his divinely granted magic forever.
And as if all that weren’t enough, he’s fairly young — at the time of the story, he’s only had a couple of previous assignments, and nothing like this — and he’s beset by self-doubt because all his life he’s been subjected to the Model Minority Myth. Everyone he meets expects that he’ll be super extra awesome not only because he’s a Sun Knight but because of what he looks like. He knows the truth is that he’s just human, but nobody cares about his truth except Bitharn. For everyone else, he has to be who they need him to be.
So he gets to navigate through all that in his early 20s. It’s a wonder the poor guy can make any choices at all.
There’s an infant at the heart of the story, arguably the most helpless victim of all. What inspired that?
I had to threaten something cute and squishy. It was either a baby or a puppy, and I wanted to reach the cat-lovers too.
How does your heroine, Odosse, differ from Kelland, since both are trying (from opposite sides) to achieve the same goal? And how are they similar?
They’re different in that Kelland is one of the most powerful characters in the story, while Odosse is one of the least. She’s an illiterate 16-year-old single mother with no money and no social standing in a country where having the wrong accent could get her killed. She doesn’t even have a pretty face, which seems to be the default superpower for a lot of fantasy heroines.
Odosse was actually one of the first characters that popped into my head when I was drafting the outline for this story. At the time I’d been reading a message board thread in which a boarder expressed a desire to read a story about an ordinary person who didn’t have any special talents and never developed any. It got me thinking: what would happen if an ordinary person — not a secretly royal Child of Prophecy, not someone destined to become the most powerful sorcerer in the world — was thrust into a situation that seemed to call for a Hero?
Let’s take the archetypal RPG opening scenario: “your village has been destroyed by unknown evil! You are the sole survivor!” What does an ordinary person do in that situation? Swear vengeance and hunt down the villain who did this? Then what, attack him with a ball of bread dough? No. Probably you just try to stay alive. Probably you run away, and grieve, and pick up the pieces of your life and go on. And there’s a kind of heroism in that, too — a more realistic kind, I think — so I wanted to write about it.
As for how she’s similar to Kelland, well, Odosse and Kelland are probably the two most good-hearted characters in the story. They both place others above themselves, and they both try to do the best they can for those people. They just have vastly different ways of doing it.
Do you plan more adventures in Ithelas?
I hope so!
Heaven’s Needle,, the next book in the sequence, is slated for publication in March 2011. It picks up the most obvious dangling thread from The River Kings’ Road and carries it into new territory, wherein Our Heroes confront an Ancient and Insidious Evil. That one takes a darker bent; it’s more fantasy-horror than pure fantasy.
After that, well, we’ll see. I’m working on proposals for other ideas, but those are still in the planning stages and pretty nebulous. My plan, tentatively, is to continue the series as books that are linked by recurring characters but each tell a self-contained story. But I’m a noob to this and I hesitate to make grand predictions, so… there’s at least one more, it’s a lot darker, and it’s coming out next year. Let’s just go with that. 🙂
The novel hits stores on Tuesday, March 10, 2010. Leave a comment before March 8 for a chance to win a copy of The River Kings’ Road signed by the author.