My Favorite Bit: Elijah Kinch Spector Talks About KALYNA THE SOOTHSAYER

Elijah Kinch Spector is joining us today to talk about his novel, Kalyna the Soothsayer. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Kalyna’s family has had the Gift for generations: the ability to see and predict the future. For decades, they have traveled around the four connected kingdoms of the Tetrarchia—one country with four monarchs—selling their services as soothsayers. The Gift is their calling and what defines them. Every child of their family has the Gift.

Except Kalyna. Born without the Gift, for years, she’s supported her father—who is losing sight of reality under the weight of his confused visions of the future—and her cruel grandmother on the strength of her wits, using informants and trickery to fake prophecies and scrounge a living. But it’s getting harder every year.

And poverty turns to danger when, on the strength of her reputation, Kalyna is “hired” (kidnapped, she would call it) by Lenz, the spymaster to the prince of Rotfelsen. Lenz wants Kalyna to use her talent for prophecy to uncover threats against Rotfelsen’s king, and he’s willing to hold her family hostage against her good behavior. But Rotfelsenisch politics are devious; the King’s enemies abound; and Kalyna’s skills for investigation and deception are tested to the limit. Worse, the conspiracy she begins to uncover points to a threat not only to the King of Rotfelsen but to all four monarchs of the Tetrarchia, when they meet for their annual governing “Council of Barbarians.” A Council that happens to fall at precisely the same time that Kalyna’s father has prophesied the catastrophic downfall of the Tetrarchia.

Kalyna is determined to protect her family (even Grandmother!), and her newfound friends—and to save the Tetrarchia too. But as she is drawn deeper into palace intrigue, she’s not sure if her manipulations are helping prevent the Tetrarchia’s destruction—or if her lies will bring it about.

What’s Elijah’s favorite bit?


The first thing that happens in my debut novel is a scene of emotional abuse. Specifically, it’s our lead and narrator, Kalyna, recounting the childhood moment when her grandmother began a lifelong campaign of vicious and demeaning treatment toward her granddaughter. (You can actually read this scene on io9.)

Kalyna the Soothsayer is mostly a fun adventure of political intrigue (I promise!), but Kalyna moves through its events constantly aware of Grandmother’s criticisms: both when they’re screamed at her, and when they nag in the back of her own mind. The reason Grandmother is so hard on her is also the central conceit of the book: everyone in their family, for millennia, has had the power to see the future. Kalyna does not, and no one knows why that is. I feel comfortable telling you that they never will know why—sometimes, life’s just like that.

So, to Grandmother, Kalyna is only a terrible failure, a broken person, a monster who’s ended their illustrious line. Kalyna tolerates Grandmother because they both love Kalyna’s invalid father, whose mind has been ruined by the same Gift of prophecy that his daughter is lacking.

To put it bluntly, Grandmother is just the biggest asshole in the world. Initially this was because that’s just a fun kind of character to write, but over time she became an extreme illustration of what it’s like to disappoint your family. I had a lot of experience disappointing my family in early adulthood, and only recently did I realize it was because I was unable to do what was asked of me.

Throughout the book, beneath all the dueling and spycraft, there’s a push and pull within Kalyna: she is, justifiably, bitter at her treatment, but can’t quite shake the feeling that Grandmother is correct about her being broken and worthless. She wants to be the real prophet she’s incapable of being, but she also takes pride in being a good enough con artist to fake it. She’s a master manipulator who’s learned how to control social situations purely for her own safety, but she’s come to derive perverse satisfaction from a fraud well executed.

And that, finally, brings me to my favorite bit (today, at least), a chapter titled “A Brief Glimpse of Love.”

Rather late in the story, a lot of spoiler-y threads are unraveling wildly, further cementing an apocalyptic vision that Kalyna’s father saw early in the book. A desperate Kalyna asks her father about the future of one of those threads: it’s painful for him to focus on a specific future, but he’s going to try because he loves his daughter. Of course, Grandmother bursts into the room, shrieking.

“You! You little . . . little . . . shirker!” she cried. “Get away from him. Get away from my son!”

They argue, and Grandmother makes her fatalistic nature clearer than ever: she would rather everyone in the world die than have her failure of a granddaughter continue to rely on her poor son. An angry Kalyna blurts out that there may be another person with the Gift of prophecy on the palace grounds, and Grandmother’s face fills with wonder.

“You don’t mean that you . . . Kalyna, have you . . . Kalyna my child, have you awakened . . . ?”

Then I saw it in her eyes. She thought I had the Gift at last, and with that thought there was hope, as well as something else. Something I had seen moisten Papa’s eyes many times, but never Grandmother’s . . . except, when she was looking not at me, but at her son. I almost gasped.

Love. She was filled with it; seemed to stand up straighter.

“No,” I said. “There’s another soothsayer here.”

Grandmother slumped into the chair I had left. The love left her eyes and she stared at the wall.

I must admit that I savored this moment. It’s foul, but I did.

“No,” she said. “No no no, that’s impossible.”

“But true,” I replied, leaving. I began to laugh at her in an ugly way. A real laugh.

“Impossible. Throughout history there has only been our family, one at a time, through the generations.”

“Now that,” I said from the doorway, “is impossible. A line like that could be wiped out so easily. There must have been someone else.” I continued laughing at her, from my gut.

This petty, tawdry revenge was, for one thing, just fun to write. It came to me quite naturally, and I love having a protagonist who isn’t always being the “bigger” person. Kalyna has seen, now, that Grandmother is capable of loving her, but that doesn’t begin to excuse the older woman’s past behavior. Family relationships are important, but not every one is worth repairing.

Kalyna’s also seen a way that she can hurt her grandmother, and she takes it immediately, which illuminates an ugly side of our hero. This chapter shows both characters at their worst, and yet I still find it wildly satisfying every time I reread it. Maybe that’s my own brokenness talking.


Kalyna the Soothsayer Universal Book Link




Elijah Kinch Spector lives in Brooklyn. Kalyna the Soothsayer is his first novel.

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