The Two Shahars

It might seem a bit unfair to put both Shahar the Matriarch (whom I’m going to call Shahar1) and Shahar the — whoops, spoiler —

— Last Arameri Ruler —

— in the same Character Study. But since I deliberately constructed the younger Shahar’s life as a “what-if” reflection of her ancestor’s, I thought this might be the best way to do it. I’ll call the younger Shahar “Shahar2” for lack of a better description. And as you noted above, this one’s full of spoilers; if you haven’t read The Kingdom of Gods and you care, stop now.

OK, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Like I said, I wanted the two Shahars to be reflections of each other. There are great differences in their lives — Shahar1 was born into harsh poverty, Shahar2 into wealth and privilege — but many, many similarities as well. Let’s start with Shahar1, who:

  • Killed her abusive father
  • Bore children out of duty
  • Loved a god and later betrayed him
  • Challenged another god, Nahadoth (and won)
  • Set the Arameri in power
  • Became a legend and inspiration for her faith

And Shahar2, who:

  • Wanted to kill her (debatably abusive) mother
  • Tried to get pregnant out of duty
  • Loved a god and later betrayed him
  • Didn’t challenge a god. (Sieh did that.)
  • Removed the Arameri from power
  • Became a goddess in her own right, and no doubt an inspiration for many faiths

I’ve spoken before about my decision to not share Shahar1’s story — not because I don’t think her story is worth telling, but because as a n00b author, it’s generally a bad idea to follow up a successful debut with a “flashback”, so to speak. Kinda kills the forward momentum. I might yet write that Inheritance Trilogy prequel, but I’ve got a few other irons in the fire first, so it’ll have to wait for those.

But I haven’t talked much about the fact that The Kingdom of Gods was originally going to be Shahar2’s story. In fact, I wrote some 60,000+ words of that version of the novel before discarding it and starting over from Sieh’s PoV. Shahar2’s story would’ve touched on that of Shahar1 — the latter Shahar studied the former extensively, much as military leaders these days still study Sun Tzu. 2 would’ve in fact regarded 1 as a personal role model — until the point in the story where she finally realizes that following 1’s path will lead her to the same terrible conclusion: destroying the world via her own selfish obsessions. And I’d intended to work in more of Kinneth Arameri, whose pre-abdication journals Shahar2 would have read, thus making Kinneth another inspiration — albeit inadvertently. The story would’ve been focused on the politics of the Arameri from the inside, rather than Yeine’s outsider perspective, which would’ve had the dual benefit of a) showing how people like Scimina and Relad could come to exist, and b) showing the difficult row Shahar2 had to hoe between two role models (the famous ancestor and the infamous one), and between her mother’s and brother’s respective philosopies. (Deka would’ve had a bigger storyline in this version too, involving his need to kill a particularly hateful relative, and related to his rise to power within the Litaria.)

But notice what’s missing in the summary above: the gods. And while the Inheritance Trilogy has always been an epic fantasy in the vein of ancient myth, rather than an epic fantasy in the vein of modern epic fantasy, I still have modern readers and there’s only so far I can take the mythic stuff. In such a Shahar-centric story, I would’ve had no choice but to treat the gods as peripheral players — ones whose conflicts at the end would’ve made all the mortal drama preceding them seem irrelevant and small. I think I pushed that envelope as far as I safely could in the first two books of the trilogy. Plus, that just wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.

Still… I have a thing for watching characters struggle in the face of insurmountable odds. And I’m pleased that I managed to incorporate the salient details of both Shahars’ stories into the final version of The Kingdom of Gods in a way that (I hope) makes it clear that they did extraordinary things. Terrible, in some cases… but extraordinary.

There’s Shahar1’s rise to power within the Itempan Order, for example. It’s visible in the interstices of the trilogy (most notably in one of the Appendices of the first book, via her daughter’s narration), but she went from being the unwanted daughter of a violent barbarian warlord to a high-ranking priestess by sometime in her thirties or early forties. Not bad for someone who likely started out illiterate and lice-ridden. At that point she was required to have children for the faith — something her descendants quickly abolished, because I don’t believe any religion that has women in powerful positions of leadership would spend much time trying to control reproduction. Along those lines, being forced to mother does not necessarily make one a good mother, and Shahar frankly wasn’t. Ironically this is because she had internalized the Itempan ideals of the time: children were objects of devotion for her. Objects, not people. Pawns to be used as she saw fit. This attitude was very much behind her later murder of Shinda, her son by Itempas. She didn’t particularly care about the boy either way — but when Itempas left them, Shinda became a weapon that Shahar could use to strike a blow against one of the greatest gods. It’s likely that she didn’t intend for Itempas to then kill Enefa — Shahar’s main goal was to keep Itempas focused on herself at all times. She gave Itempas Shinda’s blood probably hoping Itempas would kill himself. But I doubt she minded that Itempas killed one of his lovers — and later, when the opportunity to strike against Itempas’ other lover came, Shahar herself took care of Nahadoth with the Stone of Earth. (Yes, she was trying to kill him.) Shahar died in the process — but as she reasoned, she would’ve died anyway, being mortal. And she died victorious: her rivals dead, her family ascendant, the lover who abandoned her punished for his temerity.

This isn’t madness in the modern/psychological sense of the word. Shahar1 was neither delusional nor irrational. But she was very much an extremist, and extremism often looks like madness. Shahar2 has a bit of this extremism within herself; it’s a cultural thing, something the Arameri encourage in their offspring, and something the Itempan faith encourages in its adherents. But perhaps because 2 experienced a mitigating force at a formative point in her life — two forces, actually: Sieh and her brother Dekarta — she developed the ability to see and accept alternate points of view.

Dekarta is the key to this, which is in part why Shahar reacted so badly to Deka and Sieh becoming an item. (Will do his Character Study later.) She was jealous of both of them. As a child Shahar2 loved her brother unconditionally, and it’s difficult to watch someone you love being mistreated without wanting to make things better for them. This is not a universal, I know; plenty of people learn to rationalize or ignore the mistreatment that they see others suffering. Shahar did not — in part because Sieh held a mirror in front of her face until she acknowledged her own role in Deka’s hardship, but also because she was just that kind of girl. And when one stops “unseeing” suffering on the micro level, it becomes harder to unsee on the macro.

So Shahar2 attempted a lot of the things Shahar1 also did — but then Shahar2 stopped, because she could see where they would lead. It bothered her that others would have to suffer so that she could achieve her goals — so she made a choice to achieve less and do less harm in the process. And while historians in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms will probably compare her less favorably against her ancestor some day, I’m not sure I’d agree with them. (Your mileage may vary.) In the end, only one Shahar will get the last laugh.

4 thoughts on “The Two Shahars”

  1. I thank you for your previous response to my question. The Kingdom of the Gods is on Bookshare and I am thankful because i can listen, but I remain hopeful you can have Audible release a version read by Cassaundra Freeman. Her narration of your work has made me a fan for life.

  2. I second Theresa’s comment. I listened to both earlier books via Audible and loved them so much. I’m an audiobook junkie and hoping to have the same opportunity with Kingdom of the Gods. Love your world creation and character depth.

  3. I’m still not sure how I feel about Shahar2. This helped me sort of like her since it’s clear she had a marginal choice in the decisions she had to make.

    I really love how well-rounded and real your characters are. Do you do character charts for them? If you do, how long are they and will you post one? I mean character chart in the sense of I can’t really articulate this the way I want to, so if I sound incoherent, forgive me. :(

  4. Pingback: The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin | Janicu's Book Blog

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