A Few Points of Clarification

…on some things I’ve been asked about, privately and in interviews, re the Inheritance Trilogy lately.

I’m a big believer in the idea that a book’s text is fundamentally interactive. It means both what the author intended it to mean and what the reader interprets it to mean, with the actual value falling somewhere in between. The two cannot be separated, and a good author tries to anticipate what her readers will bring to the table. She can’t always succeed, of course; different readers bring different things. But she can try, so here’s what I was trying to do. Huge whopping spoilers for both books so far; none for book 3.

On those free-lovin’ gods: The relationship between Nahadoth, Itempas, and Enefa — later Yeine — is polyamorous. It’s not two gay guys, one of them Kinsey 3 and the other Kinsey 5, and a spare straight chick. I get why some readers would interpret it that way — and per that interpretation, assume that the Gods’ War started because the straight chick tried to come between the star-crossed gay lovers, or because I was trying to make some kind of statement against homosexuality, or something. But that’s not only a misinterpretation, it’s binary thinking in a situation where there is no binary. For one thing, all the gods are omnisexual — I’m not talking about Kinsey 3 here, I’m saying they’ll screw anything with sufficient probable sentience, regardless of its gender, species, or material composition. (Which is better than Zeus, who supposedly had a thing for cows.) The gods are metaphysical beings; it’s the soul that attracts them, as much as the shell that houses it. For another thing, there are no such designations as “gay” and “straight” (or lesbian, or bisexual, or whatever) in the mortal realm of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This is a world obsessed with its gods, so anything the gods do is considered acceptable. (Within limits — as we see in 100K, pedophilia is illegal, and Yeine has some hesitancy about cousin incest.) For yet another thing, and this is an important distinction — the Gods’ War occurred because Itempas and Enefa were fighting over Nahadoth. It was not two men fighting over a woman. And specifically they were fighting over ranking, not “him or me” exclusivity; basically, Enefa wanted a turn as Nahadoth’s favorite. Itempas didn’t like giving up his position of primacy.

Note that I’ve never been in a poly relationship. There are aspects of polyamory that I may never understand. But it does seem kind of obvious to me that functional polyamory is far more than one or both members of a couple having a hankering to play around. All the usual power struggles, role negotiation, and communication dynamics will be complicated by an order of magnitude for each additional member of the relationship. It’s therefore impossible to lay the blame for any relationship problems at the feet of only one or two members of a triad. I tried to convey this, and maybe did a poor job of it — but beyond my mistakes, please try not to simplify it further. The Three are just that: three. Not “two and an extra”.

Villain, villain, who’s got the villain(y)? Did an interview recently that asked me about “the villain” in 100K, to which I responded, “Which one?” The interviewer was kind of taken aback by this, which surprised me; he saw only one villain in the whole story. Which is certainly valid, but I see six, personally. All of them are equally culpable in what happens to Yeine, so I guess I’ll order this by their threat/harm level.

The most immediate, and the one the interviewer was thinking of, was Scimina, who threatened Yeine’s homeland in order to force her choice in the contest of heirs. But Scimina was the least and most superficial of the story’s villains, IMO; Scimina never actually did Yeine any harm, for all her Mean Girl behavior. (Granted, she tried, but she didn’t.) More harmful was Kurue, who killed Yeine’s mother and betrayed her to Itempas/Viraine; of a nearly equal level was Viraine, who actually killed Yeine. Beyond that we’ve got Nahadoth, who risked Yeine’s sanity in order to manipulate her and for his own selfish purposes (he could’ve said “no” to her at any point, but didn’t), and who offered Yeine multiple chances to kill herself — granted, this would’ve been more assisted suicide than murder, but it certainly would’ve thwarted Yeine’s goals if she’d gone through with it. By the same token was Kinneth, who sacrificed her daughter in an attempt to save her husband and avenge her mother — an understandable choice, maybe, but still kind of screwed-up, to my thinking. And at the top of the Ethically Questionable Pyramid is Dekarta, who set the immediate plot (Kinneth’s revenge, Yeine’s attempt at same) in motion on the mere suspicion that Yeine had killed Kinneth.

I’m tempted to include Sieh here, who put Enefa’s soul into Yeine and thus landed her on the cosmological Itempas’ Most Wanted list — but I think Sieh’s actions are mitigated by the fact that he wasn’t trying to hurt her, just hide the soul. That said, he didn’t really care that putting a goddess’ soul into a mortal child would probably destroy that child’s soul and drive her mad. So let’s put all of the Enefadeh next to the pyramid, if not in it, for their willingness to sacrifice an innocent child.

I also count Yeine as villainous, although obviously not relative to her own position. She was not in the moral clear in this story. She tortured and killed two men, allowed her allies to suffer for her own mistakes, and she killed Kurue (who had perfectly good reasons for what she did). She came to Sky meaning to kill somebody for her mother’s murder, whoever that happened to be. And unrelated to the story’s plot, Yeine has killed others in the pursuit of her goals, without much remorse. That was kind of the point, really; if Yeine had been reared in Sky, she would’ve been a match for Relad and Scimina, and even Dekarta and Kinneth. She acknowledges this herself, grudgingly, about halfway through the story: “I was not so Darre as, and so much more Arameri than, I seemed. It was something I had always hated about myself.” I would further note that Yeine drew an artificially large distinction between the Darre and the Arameri; the two cultures were much more alike than different, beyond the superficial matriarchial/patriarchial, etc., divides. Both cultures tested their young in cruel, violent, and potentially deadly ways; both encourage a certain warrior ethic — the ruthless willingness to fight, die, or kill, for what one desires. It’s just a matter of degree and scale.

On points of prurient interest… Yeah, that little scene at the end of book 2 means that Itempas leans bondage dominant. I see this as a mirror to Nahadoth’s tendency to literally become whatever his lovers want — a kind of ultimate submission, though as you can see it by no means makes Naha passive or less powerful. I imagine that if Shiny and Oree had stayed together longer, she would’ve demanded safewords; a god might not need them, but mortals certainly do.

Oh. ::sigh:: And I have no idea how “big” Itempas is, okay? I didn’t think about it, because I don’t care. Frankly, given the stereotypes of black men’s sexuality, I find the question disturbing in and of itself. Only one person has asked thus far, but let’s just head that one off at the pass, OK? Quit asking.

mutter grumble wtf people

8 thoughts on “A Few Points of Clarification”

  1. Thank you for this. I’m always surprised when I see authors doing even some of what you did in 100k—yeah, I’m young and sheltered—,so it’s nice to read confirmation that it was intended to read similar to how I read it.

  2. I now want to write a story with a sentient cow.

    Or, on second thought, given the context, maybe not.

  3. What I love about this series so far is the incredible complexity. As you’ve explained here, it works on multiple levels, and all those levels work together. I don’t really think you have any mistakes to apologize for.

  4. Just finished Broken Kingdoms this morning, and I absolutely loved it. Every bit as dramatic and tension-filled as the first.

    Regarding both books, I was able to accept and take in the polyamorous relationships with shocking ease, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Probably because I have a very flexible mind, and also because you effectively brought it off as natural, in my view.

    Random note regarding the ethnicities: I never really pictured in my head the characters as appearing as any certain race… I tend to just visualize their personalities as their “appearance”, so yeah. I think that’s a good thing.

    I found it amusing that in the beginning, when I guessed right away that “Shiny” was Itempas, I thought, ‘There’s no way in hell I’m ever going to like him. He doesn’t deserve sympathy.’ And then eventually I begrudgingly had to feel sorry for him, hehe. And now I’m all conflicted. But I suppose I’m supposed to be.

    Oh, and uh, I found a misword in the Glossary: It says Serymn Arameri is the “husband of Dateh Lorillalia”.

  5. PS: Do you think perhaps a map could be provided for the kingdoms and land? That would be fascinating. :)

  6. Second on the map :) Also, while you’re at it, a role playing setting :P

    I don’t think I associated any particular ethnicities either, except Sieh appeared in my mind to greatly resemble the cartoon version of Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

  7. Emily: gah! Good catch on that error. I’ll let the Orbit folks know, for the mass market version.

    Re a map — unless I can find a cartographer willing to work extremely free, I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to provide one, because it would be a do it yourself job by Yours Truly. That would make it a bunch of labeled blobs, somewhere on which would be the caption “Here There Be Stuff I Can’t Draw”. :P So I think it’s safer to keep things unmapped.

    Aaron: It’s fun to noodle how a tabletop RP would work in this world — all the god-characters would have a stat for SMITE — but I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to really work out all the deets.

    Aang’s probably a good way to think of Sieh, given that Aang’s basically supposed to be a cartoony, child-version of the Dalai Lama. Though Sieh’s meaner. And he has hair.

    To clarify, no one in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms exactly matches any Earth ethnicities. But this world does have its own ethnic groups, and they’re very distinct. The Amn resemble northern Europeans, for example, except in that Amn are almost exclusively curly-haired, and they consider straight hair to be a mark of genetic inferiority. The Maro resemble the people of an ancient (now extinct, like the Maro have almost become) civilization called Meroe — very dark skin, a tendency to be tall and skinny, kinky hair, and they were monument-builders before the Gods’ War. You’ll get a chance to meet Temans in The Kingdom of Gods, and they mostly resemble the Han Chinese, though they wear their hair in ornamented “dredfall” locks (my personal homage to anachronaut, a steampunk artist/model whose aesthetics I love).

    I don’t harp on all these ethnic differences in the books, because the books aren’t about that — but I do want the world of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to feel like a real world, and that means lots of different kinds of people. :)

  8. Well whatever you’re doing, it’s working for me :)

    I was only (half) joking about the RP setting. They’re hard to write, take a great deal of time, and use a different mix of skills (presumably) than novel writing.

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