First: thanks for asking. Seriously. Click through to read my answer.
Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).
This week: The Reign of Yazdegerd the Unjust
Synopsis: “Yazdegerd is such a terrible king his advisors turn against him and try to keep his son Bahram from succeeding him.”
TG: There was a lot going on here, more of the recent narrative taking stories that are familiar and shifting them or re-ordering the series of events to make something slightly new, but I have to admit I can’t really get past/over the very brief episode where our supposedly glorious, farr-blessed, wise and good hero tramples a woman he “loves” because she said something silly.
It WAS a silly thing to say, and a challenge that seemed designed to egg him on, not improve anybody or anything, but then he succeeds, shoves her off the camel, and tramples her. The episode just closes “after this, he never took a slave girl hunting again.” As if any slave girls would WANT to go hunting with him again!
It reminded me of “always leave a note” moment in Arrested Development because it’s such an over the top, ridiculous reaction/punishment to something trivial.
Like with Rostam and his horse cruelty, I just couldn’t get behind the notion that Bahram was a decent guy after this. Especially because he supposedly loved Azadeh (she even HAS A NAME!) enough to have a special saddle made so they can ride and hunt together.
(It wasn’t the only Rostam call-back: They make a big deal of Bahram choosing his horse, too.)
My favorite part of this section was the lake horse that kills Yazdegerd. I’m basically always on the side of the horse in the Shahnameh.
KE: I found a plate with the infamous hunting scene on it.
KE: Yes, I had the same reaction. After his treatment of Azadeh I just wanted to dump Bahram into a pit of sucking sand and listen to his helpless cries as I watch him sink and choke. Frankly his story (and the stories coming in the next section, since I have been reading ahead) strike me as being more sexist in their treatment and limited view of women than the legendary tales. Bahram has no relationship with women that isn’t sexual. He demanded to be taken away from the women’s quarters at seven in a speech ripe with condescension for his female caretakers, and all of his relationships here and into the next section are basically him plucking sexy young women for his wine, hunting, and pleasure cycle.
I also noted how he regained his throne: Sure, he is advised to speak wisely, but basically he says, “Look at all these great arguments for me to become a wise king and also by the way my army will kill all of you and lay waste to your land if you don’t accept me.” The crown and the lions is just a face-saving mechanism so the Persian notables and dignitaries who have worked so hard to make sure Yazdegerd’s son doesn’t come to the throne can pretend it was a divine working.
NOT mind you that I have anything good to say about Yazdegerd. Like you, I appreciated the white horse.
I guess Bahram is a reminder of how far the farr has fallen (see what I did there?), even from the reigns of Ardeshir and Shapur I (and even Ardeshir had his unpleasant behavior toward women).
I don’t know if it’s just that the book is so long or if the transition into the historical section loses something of the mythic tone and qualities that make the legendary section so fresh and delightful to read. Ardeshir and even to some extent his son the first Shapur still had some of that sheen but now it is wearing off for me as a reader and I am strongly feeling my anti-monarchy leanings rise to the brim once again.
Next week: The Reign of Super Sexist Jerk Bahram Gur
(we’re doing the entire long 56 page segment the better to get quickly past the Wild Ass <== what Gur probably refers to).
Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).
This week: The Reign of Shapur Zu’l Aktaf
Synopsis: “Shapur, Lord of the Shoulders, battles against Rome after being sewn into the skin of an ass, and rules for fifty years.”
TG: It’s strange to think of an episode that includes a king being sewn into the skin of a donkey as generally just more of the same, but that’s what it is. I enjoyed it, and would never call it boring, but these sections are beginning to feel familiar. They follow the same frame, of coming to and leaving kingship, and then the pieces are filled in with recognizable incidents, and while that can get repetitive, it really lets the details shine. Not only details like the donkey skin, but also details about the women and secondary characters, who they’re related to, and asides (like how Shapur got his epithet).
Overall there are two things I really noticed:
– I’ve gotten used to the section headings, and for the most part they only gently suggest what’s about to happen. They’re “so and so fight so and so” or “so and so is killed” or “so and so sees our hero and falls in love.” But when I got to “Shapur Travels to Rome and the Emperor of Rome Has Him Sewn in an Ass’s Skin” I had to read it twice.
And then I sat there, mouth open, and thought how I couldn’t WAIT to find out how this was going to come about, and why. It was a great reminder that sometimes a spoiler really pushes me eagerly on.
– I wonder how many descriptors of beauty are gendered. I expect most, or all, to be, but in the Shahnameh very few seem to be. I think “face like a moon” is generally used for women, but like a cypress tree, musk smelling, rosy cheeks, all these things are said of men, too. Shapur’s description in particular struck me as very “feminine” which of course made me sit back and think about my OWN assumptions and use of adjectives and metaphors and how I gender them (and play to and on reader expectations).
It’s nice in the final quarter of this epic book to feel familiar enough with the context and rhythms of it to really dig into some of these things for myself.
ILLUSTRATION NOTE: For the first time ever, I have not been able to find a lovely Persian miniature painting from the section we are reading this week, so have a painting of Shapur I using Emperor Valerian as a footstool to mount his horse.
KE: I too felt the drum of familiarity in this section–a king in disguise as a merchant, battles and more battles, the countryside devastated, a man saved by a clever and beautiful young woman–with the notable exception of the ass’s skin. What an amazing detail!
At least the young serving girl who saves the hapless king is given a name by him. Did she have a name before or was she literally nameless? Perhaps this is a special honor name? I don’t know the customs but was pleased to see her honored because so few women get named in the saga that it’s nice to see one get her due.
The episode of the Ass’s Skin is definitely one of my small highlights of the entire book just for how strange and somewhat grotesque it is to imagine.
And yes, I do also feel we are consistently seeing a somewhat different beauty aesthetic than the one we are accustomed to. Although youthful beauty is a theme cross culturally worldwide, I suspect.
The revolt of the Nasibins also interested me; they don’t want to be ruled by a Zoroastrian king, and pay the price for it. Also note that very odd aside in which Shapur criticizes Christianity by saying, “It’s ridiculous to respect a religion whose prophet was killed by the Jews.” I don’t know any way to read this except as anti-Semitic, but maybe there is another interpretation. Neither do I have any idea of whether the Sassanians were particularly anti-Semitic, and if not, where this comes from.
Speaking of religion, I was struck by how the section concludes with a curious and unexpected mention of Mani, the founder and prophet of Manichaeism, at the end of which Mani meets a violent death (as he did in real life). Since Zoroastrianism *was* the state religion of the Sassanian dynasty, as far as I know, it makes sense that it plays a larger role in the story now. One of the things bad and simplistic history teaches is that the Muslim conquerers of Persia basically made everyone convert at the point of their swords immediately but in truth that didn’t happen at all. Zoroastrianism hung on for centuries (and there is still a remnant community), and often people converted either out of piety or because it benefited them in some way. I don’t think the Book of Kings will get into that, though, since we’ve already been told that Islam is never mentioned in the story although Ferdowsi wrote after the Islamic conquests.
So I peeked ahead to the reign of Yazdegerd the Unjust and I can just say that Yazdegerd’s son Bahram looks to be the nastiest toward women yet. Imagine my emoji face.
Next week: The Reign of Yazdegerd the Unjust
Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).
This week: The Reign of Ardeshir AND The Reign of Shapur, Son of Ardeshir
Synopsis: “Ardeshir rules wisely and makes many changes to the laws of the land. He also likes to kill the ladies.”
TG: “When Ardeshir killed Ardavan and grasped the world in his fist” is a GREAT opening line to a story.
I’m enjoying how these episodes are taking stories and story-lines we’ve encountered before and giving them different endings or twisting them. For example: Ardeshir wants to see if his soul will respond to the sight of his son, so has 100 boys dressed up as look alikes. He has faith he’ll recognize him, but it also testing the farr and their royal connection. Given the tendency in the Shahnameh for fathers and sons to NOT recognize each other — to great tragedy– I am really nervous for Shapur who I haven’t even met. But this time, it works out. And then we do the same thing with Shapur’s secret son! Ardeshir recognizes his farr and lineage in the exact same way: through polo. Such a great storyline! And it plays on my emotions because I do not expect it to work out.
It’s interesting that Ardeshir fears someone will cast an evil eye upon Shapur when that’s so similar to the vizier’s fear that someone who is in enemy will poison his water. This new fear of the power of enemies to curse or slander is a culture shift, I think. Earlier, the power of an enemy was all about the sword. People made choices to hide secret sons or rescue condemned prisoners because of prophecy or stars, not because of a vague fear of curses. It’s as if magic has disseminated into the population, instead of just being the tool of wizards (I miss you Zal!) and demons.
We’re also getting more of these stories where farr and beauty mark a person royal even if they’re hidden among the peasants, “Like a tulip among weeds.”
It’s interesting, too, that Ardeshir makes so many thoughtful reforms, but really likes killing women. He wants to cut off their heads or hang them or, notably, burn them alive! “Interesting.” Mostly I mean that he’s clearly supposed to be a king we respect, and yet….
“Religion cannot do without the king, and the king will not be respected without religion” I wonder if this is true? I know they can build each there up, create support structures for each other, but to what extent can they survive without the other? We have evidence that religion can survive without a king just fine, but at least in the West, I’m not sure we can say the same about kings. Religious rebellion and changing philosophical perspectives is one of the things that leads to uprising against kings in western history. We rely upon the Divine Right of Kings, and without that divine right… why is the king the king? I suspect in the Shahnameh this is directly related to farr, and that only a person with farr can be king, and farr itself comes from God.
“That man who lifts a wine glass in his hand/In memory of the kings who ruled this land/Knows happiness” is going to be the epigraph of a book I wrote someday. Or short story. We shall see.
Here are a few brief notes I took down:
– It’s funny the note that Ferdowsi gives about brief accounts of uneventful kingships, when the one we just read about Shapur is really brief and uneventful, too. It was more like an epilogue to Ardeshir’s section.
– Self castration takes…balls. This entire episode delighted me.
– I’d like to know the protocols of wine drinking.
– We got a girl at the well story!
– “Scribes are the unseen rulers of the kingdom” can I put that on my business cards?
– I fear the reason we haven’t heard more from Golnar is because she’s dead, since Ardeshir really likes to kill the ladies.
KE: I am going to figure out a way to write a story about Golnar because I too want to know what happened to her. Or make up my own triumphant ending for her, because she is aces.
I love the girl at the well story, and even better, she is in fact the missing daughter of Mehrak, who is referenced and then to my excitement brought back into the tale in an important role. I am intrigued by how many women Ardehir’s story includes, because even if he does want to kill most of them (or discards the much missed Golnar), they are still there: his mother, the slave Golnar, Arnazad’s nameless daughter the poisoner, and Mehrak’s daughter. That’s a lot of women! And they all do such active things, which is what intrigues me most. Think about it: everything these women do in this section are all perfectly reasonable things for historical women to have done, and in the way they have done them and for the reasons they do them.
The girl in the well also matters to me because of its Biblical parallels. In the Bible, girls at wells drawing water for tired and thirsty animals are seen as desirable because of their compassion, while Shapur sees “radiance” and “signs of royalty” in her face. He actually says, “No peasant ever had a daughter as lovely and as bewitching as you are.” Which I don’t adore as a sentiment, but it is what it is, and yet at the same time, her father Mehrak is described as “low-born” so I don’t know what to make of that.
Shapur defeats the Romans (I love being in historical times) and then uses Roman engineering! Smart man.
Ardeshir’s reforms are really interesting and also fit a pattern. It feels like dynasty founders follow similar paths. In fact, these “discovery of the royal child amid ordinary children” stories are both reflections of a story from Cyrus the Great’s childhood, so I have to wonder if they got their start there or if, like the stories of Moses and Sargon being cast into the river in a basket as babies, they represent a kingly origin tradition tale. It does feel as if these warring conquerers then, once they’ve got theirs, turn around and immediately start working to keep it together by instituting a strong legal system and to keep their legacy untarnished by declaring themselves for justice, mercy, and other such reforms. I don’t know. But one does see it over and over again in the history of the world.
Now that we’ve entered historical times, people die at normal ages rather than 800. Onward into the Sassanian dynasty!
Next week: The Reign of Shapur Zu’l Aktaf
Previously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam, The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh, The Tale of Sohrab, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 1, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 2, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 3, Forud the Son of Seyavash, The Akvan Div, Bizhan and Manizheh, The Occultation of Kay Khosrow, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 1, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 2, The Story of Darab and the Fuller, Sekander’s Conquest of Persia, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 1, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 2, The Death of Rostam, The Ashkanians
This week: The Ashkanians
Synopsis: “The post-Sekandar world is less grandiose than before, with many short-lived kings and an even shorter-lived peace, but we do get a great story about a demon-worm.”
TG: The introduction to this section was fascinating, as it basically said “here’s what we’re going to talk about, and it’s not really worth talking about, in fact, we know almost nothing about these kings but their names,” and then the section proceeds to go into a lot of detail.
I wonder what the purpose of it was — to assure us that we don’t have to worry about another great character like Sekandar? To relate listeners to an episode of history that I’m not familiar with?
That said, this section presented some unique moments (not even including the worm). Babak’s reaction to his dream prophecy was a pleasant surprise, in that he didn’t get jealous or angry, but instead welcomed this strange prince into his life and allowed Sasan to become his son, and then for Ardeshir to be born.
And Golnar! The king’s treasurer. She’s not just any slave or mistress, she’s trusted with the kingdom’s funds, and no matter what else you can say about Ardavan, he loved her, even refusing to start his days without seeing her face for a good omen. That was charming. But Golnar takes destiny (and the story) into her own hands by climbing out of her bower to chase love in the form of Ardeshir. She gives up everything, risks her life, and even uses her power over the treasury to steal from Ardavan. If only she didn’t disappear entirely once she served her purpose. I was hoping to discover who her sons and daughters are by Ardeshir. OH WELL.
And then the worm. What a great fairy tale, and it fits into the story here seamlessly. I love the overlooked daughter who finds the worm and instead of fearing it, gives it a home and uses its luck. Too bad this turned into her father’s story instead of her own. So it goes. But at least I can imagine she survives and finds continued happiness and success in the rest of her life.
Here’s a picture of Ardeshir killing the worm:
And here the girls spinning (I’m fascinated by their spindles)(the piece is a detail from a larger 16th century painting called “The Story of Hafted and the Worm):
KE: The historical discussion here fascinates me. Sekander “kills all the kings” which I would kind of assume must reference his conquest of the Persian Empire and replacing most (although not all) of the local level kings and rulers with Macedonian and Greek men from his army. So there is a violent break in terms of rulership to some degree (although studying the Seleucid period shows that it isn’t a clean a break as one might think, and it certainly didn’t involve any major changes in the general population demographics). But the narrative seems to skip over the Seluecid period and to a fair extent the Parthian period, as the Ashkanian period seems to include a number of local and regional level rulers without one overall Iranian king as in the previous dynasty.
Maybe this was just me, but I did feel that Ardeshir’s narrative has less of a legendary aura to it and felt more realistic. Everything that happens to him (even to some extent the story of the worm with the cunning way he kills it) feels completely believable in the sense that it could easily be translated directly into the plot of a novel and make pragmatic sense. Rostam always feels larger than life. Ardeshir feels like a dude doing things to make his way, and his story also makes political sense, for example, with the idea of him fostering at the court of a more powerful king whom he eventually supplants. Also I loved his charming correspondence with his beloved grandfather, to whom he is evidently closer than his own father.
While I’m on that, how savvy and level-headed is Babak anyway? Seeing how the stars reference this young shepherd as a future king or sire of kings, does he try to murder the man? NO. He promptly marries him off to his daughter so that he, too, can be connected to this coming line of kings. I loved that.
I too loved the story of the worm but I’m sorry we never hear what became of the daughter (the one, the story tells us, that her father never thought about, which is then contrasted with her actions bringing about his wealth and power). I thought her sparing the worm was a nice action but I guess it wasn’t? I never figured it out, and she vanishes from the story, still nameless. Alas. Together with the unnamed daughter of Mehrak, who is the only one of his family not put to the sword, because she manages to hide out. Will we see her again in the next chapter? Or is she yet another woman’s story hinted at and left untold? It’s no wonder I write the books I do, centering women.
Finally, I just absolutely have to do a retelling of Golnar’s story because it completely took hold of me and I, too, was irritated that we never hear about her again (unless she turns up in the next chapter, but I have to assume that Ardeshir’s heir will be by the princess, not the slave)(although you never know).
Oh, one last thing. For all his legendary status and heroics, Rostam really is a life that flares brightly and yet leaves nothing but his reputation upon his death (although that is considerable), while the hero Esfandyar is now one of the ancestors of the new dynasty and mentioned as such.
Previously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam, The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh, The Tale of Sohrab, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 1, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 2, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 3, Forud the Son of Seyavash, The Akvan Div, Bizhan and Manizheh, The Occultation of Kay Khosrow, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 1, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 2, The Story of Darab and the Fuller, Sekander’s Conquest of Persia, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 1, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 2, The Death of Rostam
Originally posted on Once Upon a Twilight for the Poisoned Blade Blog Tour:
(Thank you again to Once Upon a Twilight for hosting the original guest post!)
This week we present an out of order chapter, the long-awaited podcast (hosted by the brilliant and magnificent Renay of Fangirl Happy Hour and Lady Business) in which you can hear Tessa and I discuss in person with each other the project, and the death of the great hero Rostam, about which we have many complicated thoughts.
Here’s an image of his death together with his loyal horse Rakhsh.
Here’s another image of his death, using marquetry (inlaid wood):
Previously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam, The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh, The Tale of Sohrab, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 1, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 2, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 3, Forud the Son of Seyavash, The Akvan Div, Bizhan and Manizheh, The Occultation of Kay Khosrow, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 1, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 2, The Story of Darab and the Fuller, Sekander’s Conquest of Persia, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 1, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 2
Originally posted on Dark Faerie Tales for the Poisoned Blade Blog Tour:
From the beginning I envisioned Court of Fives as a trilogy or maybe even as a quartet. When I first started thinking about the series I had an idea in which I would write the first book in Jes’s point of view and then add one sister’s pov to each subsequent book until the reader met all four “in person.”
So when I started writing the first draft of book two, Poisoned Blade, I tried writing in the point of view of Amaya, the youngest sister. She’s the pretty one who loves fashion and theater, who writes poetry, who pretends to dream of marriage even though she is really dreaming of a different kind of independence in a world that gives her few options. She’s over-dramatic and self-absorbed.
Here is the opening scene I wrote for her:
EXCERPT FROM FIRST DRAFT in Amaya’s Point of View:
Once upon a time, in a better world, a beautiful girl named Amaya Tonor, daughter of the honorable and exceptionally brilliant army officer Captain Esladas, attended the theater with her best and most beloved friend, the equally lovely Denya Tonor. Denya was the daughter of Captain Osfiyos who was also honorable but quite honestly not nearly as brilliant as Captain Esladas. However that fact is something a well bred young Patron woman would never mention in company and certainly not to her most doting and affectionate friend.
With what pleasure did Amaya and Denya watch their favorite play, the Hide of the Ox, for perhaps the hundredth time! They had every line memorized.
It so happened on that occasion that a pair of handsome cavalry officers looking quite dashing in the uniform of the king’s royal horse soldiers sat in the audience. Smote by the charming girls’ beauty and lively speech, the officers at once begged leave to address the solemn fathers, and begged leave to contract each a marriage with the girl who most caught his eye. Because the officers were well connected and rich, the fathers naturally agreed but with the proviso that the girls prove willing.
Thus it was that, holding hands, Amaya and Denya sat later that evening upon a garden bench while the two officers proclaimed themselves unworthy of the elegant delicacy and alluring virtue laid before them. Being officers, they would often be away fighting in the wars. But being brothers, as is the custom of Patron households, they shared a compound and thus the two girls would have each other to keep company with in the months and years their husbands were absent. Would these frequent and lengthy absences be an impediment too great an obstacle for the girls to leap?
No! No! the girls assured them. It would be entirely suitable and just what they most desired.
Once upon a time, in a better world, this is the story that would have unfolded upon the stage of my life.
Meanwhile my insensitive older sister Maraya faces me in the empty common room of the dump of an inn we now live in. As if kindly scolding a slow-witted child, she tells me I have to cut my glorious hair and smear mud on my face so I won’t be possibly be recognized by customers while I serve drinks and clean the floors at this ghastly ramshackle tavern.
“I won’t cut my hair just because you have brewed up a hundred horrible happenstances that will never come true!” I protest as Maraya crosses her arms, callously unimpressed by my reasonable retort. “Even if our father is a famous general now, ten days ago he was nothing more than a humble lowborn captain. He kept us four girls under such a tight rein it’s astounding he ever let me attend the theater with Denya and her family at all! No one will recognize me, especially now that most of the army has left the city.”
Maraya blocks the door that opens onto the street. “If Lord Gargaron’s stewards catch sight of you on the street, they will run to tell his lordship immediately.”
“Lord Gargaron and his stewards only saw me once, Merry. I know I have the sort of pleasingly beauteous face that attracts notice, but it strikes me as implausible that important Patron men would remember me.” If I catch her by surprise and shove her to the left, I might be able to bolt out the door before she can grab me. I can’t breathe in here! So I chatter on, hoping to distract her before I make my move. “It’s unfair I’m not even allowed to go to the market and buy food!”
“Amaya, can you think about something other than yourself for a single blink of an eye? Don’t you recall that Lord Gargaron had Father investigated to make sure he was the brilliant military commander who kept winning victories that gave honor and glory to Lord Ottonor? Don’t you recall that Lord Gargaron had Lord Ottonor murdered? He knows everything about us. He knew Jes secretly ran the Fives. Not even Father knew that!”
“Jes is the selfish one, not me! She ruined everything for the rest of us by sneaking out to run the Fives when she knew Father would never allow any of his daughters to do such a thing.”
“Don’t change the subject.” Maraya pierces my five souls with a deadly flat stare that makes me feel like a bug she is too bored to squash. “You ought to be grateful to Jes, since she is the one who rescued us from a living death in an oracle’s tomb.”
“Of course I am grateful but this wretched compound might as well be my tomb if I can’t ever leave its walls.” I sob a little, as actresses do to show the depth and intensity of their scorned feelings.
“Do you have any idea how tedious you are, Amaya?”
“You have the heart of a fish! Cold and sluggish!”
She snorts indelicately. “Is that a quote from a bad play?”
“No!” I say quickly, even though it is a line from a play I wrote, which no one knows about except Denya.
“Thank the gods,” she replies.
“No one appreciates me!” I mutter in an undertone, but Maraya hears me and in reply sighs so heavily her disparagement might as well be a huge wreath of withering flowers shedding dying petals all around her.
“Amaya? Maraya? Are you in here? It’s so dim without the shutters open.”
Mother appears at the curtain that hides the kitchen from the front room where drinks and food are served. She has to lean against the wall to hold herself up.
I rush over to her. “You shouldn’t be walking yet, Mother! Did the healer give you permission to get up? You are supposed to stay in bed until the bleeding stops.”
“What a scold you have become, Amaya,” says Mother in her gentle voice as she takes my hands and squeezes them. As if she needs to reassure me! Her grip is so frail.
I burst into tears, fear choking my voice until it comes out as a leaky squeak. “You must go back to bed, Mother. You were so sick. Here, let me help you.”
Maraya hurriedly limps over to us and takes Mother’s other arm.
But instead of going back to her bed Mother sinks onto a bench, so we sit beside her. Although I no longer fear she will simply cease breathing and die while she sleeps, her normally radiant complexion looks gray with weariness. “I would like to see other walls just for a little bit. Let me rest here a while.”
After I wrote this I was surprised at how self-conscious Amaya’s voice was. As a writer I wasn’t sure whether that coyness was truly her voice, or whether *I* hadn’t gotten into the heart of her yet.
Regardless, it quickly became apparent for other reasons that the Court of Fives trilogy is Jes’s story to tell. I decided against using any other point of view except Jes to keep the story streamlined and focused, just as Jes herself is very focused, and I’ve been really happy with that decision as it plays out in Poisoned Blade and in book three, which I’m revising now (for a 2017 publication).
However, there were a couple of lines from my attempt to write in Amaya’s point of view that I wanted to keep, so when I wrote a scene toward the beginning of Poisoned Blade in which Jes visits her family, I managed to work those in.
EXCERPT FROM POISONED BLADE:
A drab curtain separates the front room [of the inn] where drink and food are served from the back where they are prepared. I smell bread grilling, but it is the familiar voices of my older and younger sister rising behind the curtain that captures my attention.
“It’s unfair I’m not even allowed to go to the night market!”
“To do what, Amaya? We don’t have money to buy anything. If Lord Gargaron’s stewards catch sight of you on the street, we’ll be discovered.”
“Lord Gargaron and his stewards only saw me once, Maraya. I know I have the sort of pleasingly beauteous face that attracts notice, but it strikes even me as implausible that important Patron men would remember.” By the strength of Amaya’s wheedling I can hear she has recovered from her near death by poisoned candied almonds in the tomb. “I can’t breathe in here! It doesn’t even have to be the night market. I’ll hide my face beneath a shawl and walk down by the water and breathe fresh air and listen to the mellifluous cries of the wind-kissed birds who are allowed to y free. Unlike me.”
“Do you have any idea how tedious you are, Amaya?”
“You have the heart of a sh! Cold and sluggish!” Amaya sobs as third-rate actresses do to show the depth and intensity of their scorned feelings. “This wretched compound might as well be my tomb if I can’t ever leave its walls.”
“Help me,” whispers Polodos with a look of such desperation that I giggle.
An abrupt silence follows my betraying laugh.
The curtain twitches as a person on the other side hooks it open just enough to peek through. I would know those lovely eyes anywhere.
I say, “Amaya, if you cut off all your hair, smear mud on your face, and wear a dirty canvas sack with a hole cut for your head, then you can safely go to the market without being recognized.”
With a shout of excitement, Amaya plunges into the room, flings herself upon me, and bursts into sobs while clutching me so tightly I have trouble breathing.
Maraya limps in, smiling. “Oh, Jes, I am so glad to see you! I was afraid it would be unsafe for you to visit us.”
They look just as they did back when we all lived well protected at home, only without the fashionable clothing, perfectly beribboned hair in the most up-to-date style, and fragrant oils and perfumes to hide the smell of sweat. Had we grown up without a successful Patron father who acknowledged us, girls like us might have lived in a place like this, scrambling to make a living and able to afford only cast-off dresses and mended muslin shawls for wrappings.
“How is Mother?” I ask into Amaya’s hair. When she hesitates I shove her to arm’s length, gripping her shoulders so hard she winces. “What’s wrong?”
“Jessamy? Is that you?” Mother appears at the curtain. She has to lean against the wall to hold herself up. She is as tall as I am, and the most beautiful person I know. But right now her dark brown complexion is sheeny with perspiration; her magnificent cloud of hair has been bound under a scarf; no earrings or jewelry ornament her, all the little gifts Father used to shower upon her. She coughs weakly. I rush over but Amaya bolts past me to reach her first.
“You shouldn’t be walking yet, Mother! You are supposed to stay in bed until every trace of bleeding stops.”
“What a scold you have become, Amaya,” says Mother in her gentle voice as she takes my hands as if she needs to reassure me. Her grip is so frail that I fear I might squeeze hard enough to shatter her without meaning to. “I am so glad you have come back, Jessamy. Is Bettany with you?”
Anguish chokes my voice until it comes out as a leaky squeak. “You must go back to bed, Mother. You were so sick. Here, let us help you.”
Amaya takes Mother’s other arm.
She sinks down onto the nearest bench. “I would like to see other walls just for a little while. I have not been out of that tiny room since we came here.”
Amaya and I sit on either side, snuggling close against her as we used to do when we were little.
For me, a large part of writing and revising is knowing when to discard an idea or approach, however painful it may be to throw out work I’ve already done, and when to repurpose it, as in the rewritten Jes-narrated scene. Experimenting with Amaya’s point of view gave me some insight into how the sisters interacted that I might not have noticed otherwise. That’s the great thing about experimentation during the first draft: It might turn out brilliantly, or you might have to throw it away, but regardless it’s a great way to look at your story from a different angle.
(Thank you again to Dark Faerie Tales for hosting this guest post!)
If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out this AMAZING post by Rachel W in which she works out the complicated genealogy of our main and secondary characters.
This week we are again skipping over The Death of Rostam and continuing on with the first part of The Reign of Sekander. Tessa and I, with the assistance of the able Renay of blog Lady Business and podcast The Fangirl Happy Hour, recorded a 30 minute conversation about our feelings about The Death of Rostam. We will post that for your listening pleasure as soon as Renay has edited it to her satisfaction so soon. Meanwhile, we forge onward.
Synopsis: “The second part of Sekandar’s reign, during which he travels the known world, seeking knowledge and power, until he dies of illness in Babylon.”
TG: This section alone feels like it could have been 500 pages of adventuring. So much happened, so many lands and people were visited, and they were all fascinating! I caught myself several times trying to figure out what places and cultures they were referencing. Obviously the women of Harum are connected to stories of the Amazons, with their matriarchy and manly left breast. Possibly some of the naked, blue-faced barbarian fighters were Celts or Norseman? I’m most interested in the city where the “men have soft feet!” What does that mean?
Sekandar continues to use his trickster ways, which is not only fun, but a very consistent characterization. He tries yet AGAIN to gain information from a king by pretending to be his own envoy! His army must just have gotten used to it. I was especially surprised he uses trickery to kill the dragon by filling the cow-skins with poison. That doesn’t seem very heroic to me — I can’t imagine Rostam killing a dragon like that. And yet, it works, and Sekandar is praised for it.
The most interesting thing to me in all his wandering were the frequent death visions: Sekandar saw several corpses, seeming to symbolize his fate. The dead king high on the mountain, surrounded by treasure and fame, but still dead. The angel Esrafil told him his death would come soon. The speaking tree gave him a precise time of death…. it seems no matter how far Sekandar searched out answers and curiosities, he always had to be reminded that death could not be defeated or solved. He didn’t even achieve the Waters of Life (though it seems his friend Khezr does, and then we hear no more of him?!?).
It was neat to see Arestalis come back in, and bestow wisdom to Sekandar, who then listened to that wisdom absolutely, even though it was connected to his death.
And I loved that Sekandar’s final words of wisdom, which in previous episodes have been relayed from dying king to his son and heir, Sekandar gave to his mother.
I do feel like the Shahnameh is taking a big turn as we leave Sekandar behind, the “world is changing” as Sekandar keeps being told, and the time of epic heroes may be passing as we get more and more connected to real history.
KE: I’m dealing with multiple things going on at the same time so I don’t have any extensive commentary except that I loved this. The whole Sekander section has fascinated me both for historical and psychological reasons, and this final segment has such a fabulist and yet also deeply philosophical aesthetic that it was a delight to read. He is always asking questions. There is, I think, a direct correlation thematically between his wanting to “conquer the world” and also to answering the big questions, including the most important one, about death, and of course there is no way to defeat death as the stories tell us over and over again.
Every episode in this sequence was amazing, from the city of women (where they allow him alone to sneak in and look around) to the wonders, and the death visions, and the final letters to his teacher and his mother.
And, yes, I can’t help but love that the only person to see through his trickster-envoy ways is still, and always, Queen Qaydafeh.
Like you, I feel that the tenor of the story must now change, that maybe we are leaving behind the mythic and entering history.
Next week: The Ashkanians
Previously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam, The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh, The Tale of Sohrab, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 1, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 2, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 3, Forud the Son of Seyavash, The Akvan Div, Bizhan and Manizheh, The Occultation of Kay Khosrow, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 1, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 2, The Story of Darab and the Fuller, Sekander’s Conquest of Persia, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 1
Originally posted on Such a Novel Idea for the Poisoned Blade Blog Tour:
“How do you write a second novel in a series so it keeps alive the excitement of book one AND expands the story in a way that makes readers anxious for book three?”
** Give the second book its own introductory lead-in so you don’t have to use boring re-cap. Avoid info-dumping the events of the previous book: “On a quiet morning, Kaitlyn sat on her porch and thought about everything that had happened to her last week for three pages of non-action, and then the zombies attacked.” Start with the zombies; parcel out backstory only where and when you need it…
** Even if the second book follows right on the heels of the previous book’s events, pretend it is a brand new book in a brand new series to try to get that fresh feeling. I worked hard to make the opening of Poisoned Blade become a place a new reader could feel comfortable. While the story is a continuation from book one, the first page introduces a new miniature conflict and action that is perfectly understandable by itself when Jes decides to sneak into a place she’s not allowed to enter.
** When you can, use interactions between characters to reveal the information you need to know. That way you both help the reader orient themselves in the plot and setting AND heighten the characterization by deepening your character relationships.
** Character growth, character growth, character growth. Relationships are the fabric of character growth. Book two can and should deepen and complicate your characters.
BUT WHAT KIND OF SERIES ARE YOU WRITING?
There are many different kinds of series these days, and each one puts a different kind of pressure on a second book. Avoiding a sophomore slump with the second novel in a series starts with a close look at what kind of series you are writing. That way you can identify the part your second volume needs to play in the overall series.
Here are four possible scenarios. Remember, there are more than four scenarios; these are just examples to get you thinking about how to approach your own situation.
1) Your first novel was a standalone with a beginning, middle, and end, and your publisher has asked you to write a sequel. In this case, you want to make sure you aren’t just repeating the plot or character arc of the first book.
Open up the world. Change the direction of the character’s journey. Introduce a new conflict that isn’t a version of the original one. Deepen your character relationships or add a new complicating character.
For example (I’m making this up as I’m typing), after a world-altering firestorm our heroine Tania leads a ragtag group of refugees across a blasted wilderness to the safety of a domed city. That’s book one, and can be read as a complete and satisfying story. But book two reveals that the society in the domed city is corrupt and unjust, using refugees as unpaid labor, and so Tania is forced to lead a revolution to grant refugees the same citizenship rights as others.
The benefit to this “follow-up” scenario is that you can write book two as if it is a standalone too. A reader should be able to pick up book two without having read book one, even if knowledge of book one will amplify and intensity a reader’s understanding of the character dynamics.
A trilogy can also function as related but standalone installments, with some recurring characters and a thematic narrative arc that sits like an umbrella over all three books. In this case the second book must relate somehow to the first and also link to the third, while holding its own as a complete story. A good example of this form is N K Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. The second book, The Broken Kingdoms, introduces a protagonist who does not appear in book one, while her love interest was a major player in book one. The events of book two, while self contained, are a natural progression from repercussions of the events in book one and cause ripples that spill through book three without book three being a direct continuation of book two.
2) You’ve written a duology in which the story takes place across two books. In a way this is the easiest second-book scenario because the second book is the latter half of a single story split into two volumes, with the climax and conclusion coming at the end of book two.
3) You’re writing an episodic series, similar to a tv series with a continuing cast of characters and a mystery or mission of the week. Book one introduces the main character, her sidekicks, & the overall situation (think Leverage’s Robin-Hood-like “we right wrongs caused by the powerful abusing the powerless” or “my mental powers allow me to see a potential death and thus try to prevent it” and so on). A mystery or mission is introduced and solved.
Book two therefore carries the weight of building on the readers’ connection to the characters, while offering a new and entertaining episode-length plot. The challenge with this scenario is to avoid the info-dump introduction (as per “Basic Elements” above ) and to create a new adventure for this installment that is at minimum as exciting as the first one and preferably bigger and bolder. Add a new antagonist. Expand the world. Add a love interest. Plot out your basic outline for how you want the entire series to go. Decide whether your larger series plot direction is to create bigger and bigger stakes OR to create a close intimate study. Both can work.
For example (again, I’m making this up as I’m typing), volume one introduces our heroine, weary security officer Jo-jo who works at rundown backwater Space Station Tau keeping the peace. In book one, there’s a murder in one of the airlocks which she solves with the help of her trusty robot associate while that annoying administrative chief she’s kind of attracted to keeps hounding her about sticking to protocol even though it’s only by going outside protocol that she can solve the mystery. In book two, a battered space ship arrives with news of a terrifying alien invasion in a nearby solar system, but the station’s governing council doesn’t believe the rakish captain who has a history of smuggling and ration-busting activity; then it turns out that maybe an alien spy stowed away on the ship, and it’s up to Jo-jo and the captain to find the spy before that entity can get off the station and return to the invaders with crucial intelligence. At this point maybe you start thinking about whether you want a war to break out on the frontier. If you do, in book three refugees form the fighting can arrivg at Tau, with the search for a missing child providing the central mystery. Then in book four Jo-jo might get drafted into the space navy as an intelligence officer, and maybe the rakish captain and the contraband ship is drafted into service as well and the annoying admin chief is assigned to go along . . . this is how a story world starts opening up into bigger and bigger stakes. For a close, intimate study, you would stick to mysteries and missions ON the space station and neighboring areas (the planet, the asteroid belt) and concentrate on the character development and character journeys rather than a galloping plot.
4) The classic trilogy is a single connected story that takes three books to tell. The biggest mistake writers make in this scenario with second books is by spinning their wheels. A second book should raise the stakes. It should move the plot and character development forward in such a way that, if the reader were to skip book two and go directly to book three, they would not be able to orient themselves in the story because they would have missed major events and character changes.
For example, if in book one our heroine is sent on a quest to find four magical artifacts to defeat the Evil Overlord and manages to discover two by the end of the first volume, book two should not consist of her continuing the quest in the same way and finding the other two at its end. That sort of plot can easily become static with the quest element dragging on longer than it needs to when in fact the most dramatic element is the looming battle against the powerful antagonist.
Without spoilers, I’ll mention three ways in which I accomplished stakes-raising in Poisoned Blade.
1) Jes learns new things about the world she lives in that change the way she looks at the people and conflicts surrounding her. The reader learns them with her.
2) She travels outside the city of Saryenia, which allows the reader (as well as Jes) to get a look at the wider world.
3) Major events alter the trajectory of the plot.
I’m an architectural writer so I like to think of each book in a series as part of a bigger framework. I consider what I want the narrative to accomplish in book two. Where does the book need to take the story so it ends at the perfect launching point for book three?
Remember: There is no right answer for sequels that works for ALL books; there is only AN answer for each specific novel. That’s both the challenge and the beauty of writing a series.
(Thanks again to Such A Novel Idea for originally hosting this as a guest post!)
Leading up to and following the recent release of POISONED BLADE, the sequel to Court of Fives, Kate Elliott embarked on a YA blog tour of guest posts and interviews to discuss her YA series, her writing process, and more. Here is a full compilation of the Poisoned Blade Blog Tour interviews:
- YA Interrobang – Maybe, Just Maybe, A Kiss (Interview)
What can Court of Fives fans look forward to in Poisoned Blade?
More Fives. An arrogant but charming poet who dreams of rebellion. Travel outside Saryenia on a quest to find her missing sister, in the company of the man she hates most. A lot more about spiders. And of course a person she doesn’t expect to meet in the desert. And maybe, just maybe, a kiss.
- SFFWorld (Interview)
In your own words, who is Kate Elliott?
That’s a hard question to answer! I make up worlds. I write epic stories. I keep working to improve at my craft. I’m stubborn, and my goal is to remain a person who learns and stays curious for my entire life. Few things scare me as much as the idea of no longer wanting to ask questions, see new places and try new things, and meet new people and ways of life.
- Adventures in YA Publishing – On Listening to the Main Character’s Heart (Interview)
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?That I have to listen to the main character’s heart, even when it is something I don’t want to hear. Often the plot twists and character decisions that make me most uncomfortable are the most gripping and true.
- Two Chicks on Books – On Poisoned Blade (Interview)
What kind of research did you have to do for the story? There’s a lot of American Ninja Warrior-like courses, did you marathon the shows for inspiration?
Yes I was forced to watch a lot of American Ninja Warrior and Sasuke (the original Japanese show). Also training montage clips like this of Stephen Amell in tv show Arrow. Believe me, I have really suffered for my art:
Thank you to all of the host sites and interviewers for their cooperation and participation!