Elizabeth Bear is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Origin of Storms. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Hugo Award-winning author Elizabeth Bear returns with the stunning conclusion to her acclaimed epic fantasy trilogy, the Lotus Kingdoms.
The Lotus Kingdoms are at war, with four claimants to the sorcerous throne of the Alchemical Emperor, fielding three armies between them. Alliances are made, and broken, many times over—but in the end, only one can sit on the throne. And that one must have not only the power, but the rightful claim.
The Rajni Mrithuri stands as the chief claimant to the Alchemical throne now, but she and her empire remain a prize to be taken unless she gets an heir. She has her allies–her cousin Sayeh, a dragon, a foreign wizard, a fearsome automaton, and the Dead Man–but the throne has the final say. And if it rejects her, the price is death.
What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?
When I sat down to write this essay, I was thinking that I was going to write about the extremely ancient and slightly dimensionally shifted dragon, possibly, or maybe that I was going to write about the snarky magic pen. But (“upon contemplation,” as they say) I realized my favorite part of The Origin of Storms—the thing that was absolutely the most fun to write—is the friendships.
There are a lot of conflicts driving the story in The Origin of Storms and the two previous novels in the Lotus Kingdoms trilogy. We’ve got old bad blood and toxic family dynamics. We’ve got the accumulated weight of having to deal with your ancestors’ mistakes–or even the mistakes you yourself made before learning better.
There’s necromancy and palace intrigues and literal disaster capitalism and queer romance. There’s a chainsmoking volcano goddess with an extremely bad attitude, and boy was she fun to write.
But none of those delighted me as much when I was playing with my box of toys as the unlikely people becoming friends and the possibly even more unlikely ones working through difficulties in their existing friendships. One pleasure of the third book in a trilogy is the characters having been fully established along with their relationships, strengths, and flaws. The fun becomes not setting the dominoes up, but knocking them over.
So in this book I got to develop a long term platonic partnership between a giant metal automaton and a sworn bodyguard whose lord was overthrown and murdered, making him a wandering mercenary. That stands in counterpoint to a fragile emerging friendship between two cousin queens, one middle aged and one young, as they discover their commonalities and differences.
I also got to play with a professional acquaintanceship between two wizards of different schools, a friendship that blossoms into passionate nerdy interest-sharing. I also surprised myself with the alliance of a disabled tactician and that blind, elderly dragon.
(That magic pen does not make many friends: it’s a little too sarcastic and egotistical to get along well with anybody.)
I enjoyed writing this network of relationships so much because fiction so often focuses on family or romantic loyalties, and so rarely on the bonds between folks seeking common goals or just moving through the world in the same direction. And yet, for most of us, those friendships are the majority of our relationships.
Friendships may outlast marriages and family ties; they succor us when we’re ill; they nurture us when we’re lonely. Real friends tell us when we’re wrong and back us up when we’re treated unjustly. And those relationships are interesting. They’re complicated and as history accumulates over the years they can become fraught with big and small difficulties, with shared triumphs, with losses and wins.
We often describe these narratives as “found family stories,” but honestly I think that’s because as a culture we tend to not give friendship enough weight. Anybody who’s ever watched people fight over an inheritance (The Lotus Kingdoms is, in fact, in part about a fight over an inheritance) knows that blood relationship is no guarantee of loyalty or cohesion.
But good friends are the people you want at your side when you’re trying to spark a revolution.
Friends help you move. Real friends help you move the tide of history.
Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. She is the Hugo, Sturgeon, Locus, and Astounding Award winning author of around 30 novels and over a hundred short stories.