G.R. Macallister is joining us today to talk about her novel, Scorpica Here’s the publisher’s description:
A centuries-long peace is shattered in a matriarchal society when a decade passes without a single girl being born in this sweeping epic fantasy that’s perfect for fans of Robin Hobb and Circe.
Five hundred years of peace between queendoms shatters when girls inexplicably stop being born. As the Drought of Girls stretches across a generation, it sets off a cascade of political and personal consequences across all five queendoms of the known world, throwing long-standing alliances into disarray as each queendom begins to turn on each other—and new threats to each nation rise from within.
Uniting the stories of women from across the queendoms, this propulsive, gripping epic fantasy follows a warrior queen who must rise from childbirth bed to fight for her life and her throne, a healer in hiding desperate to protect the secret of her daughter’s explosive power, a queen whose desperation to retain control leads her to risk using the darkest magic, a near-immortal sorcerer demigod powerful enough to remake the world for her own ends—and the generation of lastborn girls, the ones born just before the Drought, who must bear the hopes and traditions of their nations if the queendoms are to survive.
What’s G.R. Macallister’s favorite bit?
A few years ago, I heard a story about a writer on a conference panel dismissively remarking, “If you’ve read one childbirth scene, you’ve read them all.” I’ve never been able to track down when and where this anecdote took place, and that made me wonder: Did it really happen? Probably not, or at least I hope not. It’s a ridiculous statement. You don’t need to have given birth personally to recognize that birth itself, let alone what comes after, can have nearly infinite variations.
But when I started writing an epic fantasy series set in a matriarchal world, focusing almost exclusively on women as main characters, that apocryphal story came roaring back into my brain. I’ll show them, I was thinking, whether or not there was a “them” to show. As I began the writing process, because I was building a world called the Five Queendoms, I was obsessed with having exactly five of everything. I decided to kick the first novel off with five birth scenes, each showing the last girl to be born in a particular queendom before the Drought of Girls—a mysterious phenomenon whose effects should be clear from its name—began.
At some point during the drafting process, I came to my senses and pared down the birth thing, and only two childbirth scenes appear early in the finished version of Scorpica. But one is, without question, my favorite bit.
Khara dha Ellimi is the queen of Scorpica, the nation of warriors, the only one of the five queendoms made up solely of women. As the story begins she is participating in the Sun Rites, an event that brings together people from across the queendoms every five years to bless the harvest. Sestia, the god who watches over the harvest, also governs bodily pleasure, and even those who don’t worship that particular god are happy to take the opportunity to seek out partners during the Sun Rites’ span. Khara is a good ruler, fair and just, but because she has never given birth to a daughter, she has no clear heir to rule after her. Khara designates a young woman named Mada as her successor, knowing that Mada is an excellent warrior, if a bit hot-tempered. Once the Sun Rites conclude, the Scorpicae resume life as usual.
But nine months later, Khara gives birth. It’s a difficult birth, as the baby starts out in a breech position, and Khara isn’t at all sure she’ll survive. Shunning the usual Scorpican birthing practice of surrounding herself with fellow warriors, Khara labors in a tent with only two companions: Vishala, her closest friend and ally, and Beghala, the queendom’s most experienced midwife. Khara has given birth nine times before, all boys who were then given away or sold to new parents in other queendoms, and she assumes that this tenth child—if it lives—will be the same. So when the child enters the world, it is with relief, shock and joy that Khara hears the surprising news from Vishala: the queen has delivered a girl.
Khara’s was the first childbirth scene I wrote, and I channeled everything into it from my own experiences giving birth. Alternating waves of pain and nothingness. The feeling of dislocation, of losing control. The desperate uncertainty: would everything turn out all right? And what would happen if it didn’t? But that wasn’t the end of what I wanted to put Khara through. Because she had made a deliberate choice a bit earlier in the story, and it was time for the consequences of that choice to come home to roost.
The morning after she gives birth, Khara is barely beginning to recover from her deep exhaustion when the worst possible thing comes to pass: Mada, furious that she is no longer the heir to the queendom, challenges Khara for the throne. And Khara faces an awful choice: defend her throne to the death and kill Mada, a woman she respects and cares for, or allow Mada to kill her and leave the freshly born baby motherless. And even if Khara has the will to slay her former protégé—who, remember, is a talented warrior—does the utterly spent queen even have the strength?
I won’t give away what happens, but a birth scene that morphs into a fight to the death is not something I’d ever read in a fantasy novel before, and I’m absolutely delighted that it helps set the tone early in Scorpica. My editor told me that as soon as he read that scene, he knew he was going to make an offer on the book, which cemented my affection for Khara and her impossible situation even further. It’s not the first scene in the book, nor the bloodiest, maybe not even the most heartbreaking, but it’s definitely my favorite.
G.R. Macallister, author of the Five Queendoms series, also writes bestselling historical fiction under the name Greer Macallister. Her novels have been named Indie Next, LibraryReads, and Amazon Best Book of the Month picks and optioned for film and television. A regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and the Chicago Review of Books, she lives with her family in Washington, DC. Scorpica is her epic fantasy debut.