A while ago, I had a lovely blogger review that praised many aspects of Feast of Fates. On that list—and what stuck with me the most—were the reader’s commendations toward some of the darker material in my book. Life is composed of many shades and colors: passionate reds, golden acts of kindness, and the blackest evils. I believe that stories of the scope I wish to tell should encompass that spectrum. Therefore, while I write some beautiful scenes, I also feel the need to balance the scales, to flesh out a realistic environment by adding the unsavory. Neglect, depravity, racism, murder, physical and sexual assault. None of these topics are comfortable to discuss. None of these topics should be handled with anything but care. I deal with each of them in my work. I choose to depict them in the raw, ugly fashion in which they are experienced by their survivors (not victims—there is a notable distinction). As a survivor of assault myself, I see no other way in which these events should be portrayed. As horrific as one imagines—or writes—these scenarios, I assure you the reality is worse. More crippling, more haunting, and usually more violent.
I don’t write dark things because I am a lover of the macabre or a sadist. In fact, often writing these scenes makes me feel as repulsed as when my readers read such material. Good. If whenever Brutus comes onto the page, your skin crawls and you are terrified of what deplorable act he will do, then I’ve done my job. Evil should not have a soft-touch (unless it’s the insidious kind). Evil should make you shiver. How soon we forget in our comfortable North American lives that we live in the same world where Malala was shot for going to school. Where the Montreal Massacre of women seeking to better themselves happened. Where we have genocides and child soldiers. I wish that the events that I write were less dark than those occurring outside Geadhain. Though, they’re not. I feel it is necessary for evil to be accurately described in order to illustrate the journey one (character) takes toward healing.
A Feast of Fates case study, if you will. Please stop reading if you’re spoiler averse and haven’t read the first book yet. (And hurry up! The second book is out now!) In Feast of Fates, we meet any number of characters who have endured trauma. Mouse, who is sold into sexual slavery. She breaks this fate at the cost of her humanity—which she later regains and then some. Macha, who is a displaced indigenous girl that also suffers a reprehensible separation from her family. Kanatuk, another indigenous person who endures a lifetime of horrific abuse—he, too, eventually finds his humanity and strength. Vortigern, who loses his family, his memory, and lives in a state of living-death and forgetfulness. The list goes on. I do not discriminate between male and female, between who should be “fairly” suffering and who shouldn’t. That’s the nasty part about life: it doesn’t give two shits who suffers or why. I’m a sensitive person, and it hurts to write these horrible fates for my characters. However, like the reader and like those of us in the real world, I hold to the hope that these people will learn from their lessons of pain. I believe in them. I believe that they have the power to heal themselves, and to remember the good of humanity. Most of the time, my characters do not disappoint me.
In what is a less easily perceived emotional struggle, we have Lila. She is Queen of Eod and living a glorious and seemingly immortal life with the Everfair King. Long ago, Magnus saved her from a misogynistic, caste-driven society (and marriage). And for a thousand years thereafter she and Magnus were happy together, blissfully happy. That happiness lasts until a horrific—and again, this incident has to be ghastly to sunder a bond of one thousand years—assault by her husband while he is under the possession of an entropic force. A number of complex issues and questions stem from this event. How responsible is Magnus? Can Lila forgive him for this one grotesque incident in their thousand year marriage? He certainly feels guilty. Lila, at the time, puts on a brave face and forgives him. After all, she is the stoic queen of a nation of hundreds of thousands, and her country must come before her needs. She has that mothering sense, of sacrificing her emotions and comfort for others, even though she has not borne children from Magnus (the Immortal king is sterile—at least with her physiology). So she buries her trauma (as people do), and says that she forgives him for the pressing sake of dealing with what evil took over her husband. Sadly, Lila’s story is not unique. Most first time incidents of domestic abuse are forgiven or simply unreported. That’s a statistical reality.
As time and progression through the novel shows us, however, Lila neither forgives nor forgets. The scars are too deep, and those wounds cannot possibly heal in weeks or months—not to a woman that knows eternity. In many ways, Lila is brought back to the very situation and oppression from which she believed herself to have escaped. She questions everything about the brother-kings, their connection to each other and to her, and her sense of individuality and pride. She questions who she really is, for she has become a stranger to herself. The growth and arc of her character is quite broad, spanning all four novels. I have to say though, she is one of my favorite and certainly one of the most inspiring characters once she finds herself. Lila’s journey is one to which many women can relate—regardless of whether Lila is real or not. Being confused. Being lost in the darkness. Forging ahead, even when all she knows is a sickening fear and agony that she can tell no one about. Lila is a composite of all that I’ve learned and seen of women pushing past their station, pushing to define themselves after trauma, and discovering new limits on who and what they thought they could be.
The ripple effect of the Lila’s assault carries through to all those in Magnus and Lila’s inner circle. It begins a world war between the brother-kings. It destroys the relationship between Magnus and his foster-son, Erik—and drives that man down his own dark path of revenge, repentance and conflict. Indeed, this event fractures countless loyalties and trusts. It is a single action that tears a hundred seams in the fabric of Geadhain. And back to where we started with this blog, all this ensuing strife would not have had the same believability, the same impact, or overall the same impetus for character growth if I had put on my fluffy, cuddly writer mitts. Sure, I could have said: “some dark and terrible things happened to Lila that night. Come the dawn her bloodmate left for war.” First, that’s lazy writing. Second, screw that. The reader deserves to see how Lila suffered. To see from where her hate and madness has festered. Then they can cheer with Lila as she conquers those demons and becomes a kick-ass, self-possessed and liberated character.
Darkness only blinds us if we refuse to move through the fear and into the light.
Feast of Dreams
Four Feasts Till Darkness
Christian A. Brown
Genre: Fantasy Romance
As King Brutus licks his wounds and gathers new strength, two rival queens vow to destroy each other’s nations.
Lila of Eod, sliding into madness, risks everything in the search for a powerful relic, while Queen Gloriatrix threatens Eod with military might—including three monstrous technomagikal warships.
Far from this clash of queens, Morigan and the Wolf scour Alabion, hunting for the mad king’s hidden weakness. Their quest brings them face to face with their own pasts, their dark futures…and the Sisters Three themselves.
Unbeknownst to all, a third thread in Geadhain’s tapestry begins to move in the wastes of Mor’Khul. There, a father and son scavenge to survive as they travel south toward a new chapter in Geadhain history.
Available at Amazon Kindle and Paperback
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/rURqUni_lco
“My queen, it grows late.”
Queen Lila was about to address the enormous man casting his silver-hued shadow over her as Rowena. But no. Her sword was gone and neck-deep in espionage with the master of the East Watch, and a hammer named Erik was her guardian these days. What sad eyes the man had, more black than blue—as morose as those of an owl perched over a graveyard. She could see them glinting from beneath his darkened visor. Rarely did she spot the hard, hidden handsomeness of the man—his black hair, broken but appealing face, and stubble crisscrossed in scars. Come to think of it, aside from the moment his naked, scorched self had abruptly manifested in a cindery puff within the Chamber of Echoes some weeks ago, she hadn’t seen him without his helm. He was hiding then from the absence of his king or another private torment. She had been staring at him rather unabashedly for quite a spell. The sparkle of fiery colors off the immaculate polish of his pristine armor hypnotized her. His voice snapped her out of her trance. How quickly evening’s shroud had fallen.
“Time has escaped us,” commented the queen.
Erik gently led her from the bedside she attended. As they passed the hospice’s cots and floor pallets, the hands and voices of the wounded reached for her. Erik watched the queen’s remorseful looks and the aching way she touched the feet of certain sufferers or the backs of weeping kin. These days she was cold and ruthless in her judgments within the palace. She had become a steel queen to stand metal for mettle against the Iron Queen rising in the East. In these particular confines, however, where the faltering breath of the ailing made the air humid, and it was thick with the stench of eucalyptus poultices and incense to mask the rot magik would not heal, the queen’s mask cracked or was simply cast off. Genuine pity replaced it. She had come here each day for the past fortnight since the storm of frostfire had struck Eod. “The day of ruin,” the people called it—when first the skies were bare and then suddenly forked with red lightning, spitting shards of ice and arrows of flame to the earth. None of sound mind could have prepared for that wailing apocalypse. Thousands were killed instantly. They were boiled inside tarry craters the earthspeakers were still working to fill or entombed in buildings that could not hold against the storm’s wrath. The injuries were uncountable, and they were still being reported. Those with only singed or frostbitten flesh dismissed the pettiness of their wounds and carried on with tourniquets and grimaces. Others had to be scraped from streets or, if mauled but living, extracted from rubble and taken to a growing encampment of emergency sites erected near the palace. Here was where the queen always found herself once the details of war, supply lines, allies, enemies, and stratagems had worn her patience to a snappy disinterest. Somehow in these miserable hospices, the queen seemed peaceful, albeit sad.
Time and again Erik made one-sided conversation as he guarded his new charge—he never managed to say these words. You blame yourself for this or for my kingfather’s fate. You see these sins as your own. You feel the weight and needs of this entire nation upon yourself, and what a terrible weight that must be to bear. You are not alone, though, my queen. As adrift as you might be, I am here. I shall be the rock you need. I have made a promise to the great man who speaks to us no more.
The night he had appeared so rudely at her side, she held him and told him she could not sense the king anymore. The icy flame of Magnus’s soul had gone as cold as a forgotten hearth.
“What does it mean? What does it all mean?” she’d sobbed.
She was without her lover and partner in eternity, and he was without his father. They were agonizingly alone. Only on that night did she cry for the king and never since—as far as Erik had witnessed. He and the queen did not speak of their grief again or further pursue the reality that the Immortal King—missing and utterly quiet in his queen’s mind since the battle with his mad brother in Zioch—was quite possibly dead.
At the hospice exit, Queen Lila stopped so suddenly that Erik almost elbowed his liege. With what Erik perceived as a speck of wariness, she half glanced over her shoulder, and her gaze swelled wide with fear. She was staring at something behind them. Erik looked as well and reached a hand to his weapon. However, he saw nothing aside from the rows of squirming sufferers moving on their bloody, sweat-soaked cots like man-size maggots. What horrible times these were.
“Have you forgotten something?” he asked.
Queen Lila wished she could explain the hairs that prickled on her neck or the chill of Mother Winter’s mouth that blew the humidity from the chamber, but no one else seemed to feel it. Most of all, she wanted to find a less hysterical explanation for the shadow—tall as a mountain, black, and somehow bright—that hovered in the corner of her eye. She would not turn around and look at it. She could not. She was afraid that if she opened her mouth, she would involuntarily scream. What do you want, shadow? Why do you haunt me? Why do you come to me in dreams?
“No. I need nothing more,” she answered curtly and moved ahead, trembling.
Four Feasts Till Darkness
Christian A. Brown
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Date of Publication: September 9, 2014
Number of pages: 540
Word Count: 212K
"Love is what binds us in brotherhood, blinds us from hate, and makes us soar with desire.”
Morigan lives a quiet life as the handmaiden to a fatherly old sorcerer named Thackery. But when she crosses paths with Caenith, a not wholly mortal man, her world changes forever. Their meeting sparks long buried magical powers deep within Morigan. As she attempts to understand her newfound abilities, unbidden visions begin to plague her--visions that show a devastating madness descending on one of the Immortal Kings who rules the land.
With Morigan growing more powerful each day, the leaders of the realm soon realize that this young woman could hold the key to their destruction. Suddenly, Morigan finds herself beset by enemies, and she must master her mysterious gifts if she is to survive.
Menos was darker than usual: its clouds as black as the shadow of fear that haunted Mouse. The city felt more menacing to her. She saw shadows in every corner, noticed the glint of every ruffian’s blade or slave’s chain as though they were all intended for her. The warning of Alastair played inside her skull on a loop of nightmare theater.
A hand over her mouth startles her awake, and she twists for the dagger in her pillowcase until she recognizes the shadowy apparition atop her, who hisses at her to calm.
“Alastair?” she gasps.
The hand unclenches and the willowy shadow retreats to more of its own; she can only see the scruff of his red beard in the dark.
“Get up, Mouse. Get dressed.”
Her mentor sounds annoyed or confused; she is each, but finds her garments quickly enough anyway.
“I don’t like good-byes, so let’s not call this that,” Alastair says with a sigh. “But it will be a parting, nonetheless. You need to go low. Lower than you’ve ever been before. A new name won’t be enough. You’ll need a new face. I don’t know how or who, but the sacred contract of our order has been broken. Your safety has been bought.”
Mouse knows the who and how, and as she glances up from her boot-lacing to explain to her mentor her predicament, she sees that he is gone. Just empty shadows, echoing words, and the sound of her heartbeat drowning out all the rest.
She expected the dead man and his icy master to emerge from the dim nooks and doorways of the buildings she passed at any instant. With a hand on her knives and a fury to her step, she swept down the sidewalk; no carriages for her today, as they were essentially cages on wheels—too easy to trap oneself in. With its sooty storefronts and their wrought-iron windows, its black streetlamps that rose about her like the bars of a prison, Menos was constricting itself around her, and she had to get out.
You’ve survived worse than the nekromancer, she coached herself, though she wasn’t certain that was true. She hurried through the grimness of Menos, dodging pale faces and quickening her step with every sand. By the time she arrived at the fleshcrafter’s studio, she was sweating and stuck to her cloak. She looked down the desolate sidewalk and up the long sad face of the tall tower with its many broken or boarded-over windows. When she was sure she wasn’t being pursued by the phantoms that her paranoia had conjured, she pulled back a rusted door that did not cry out as it should have, given its appearance, but slid along well-formed grooves through the dust. She raced through the door and hauled it closed.
It was dark and flickering with half-dead lights in the garbage-strewn hallway in which she stood. Mouse picked through the trash with her feet, tensing as she passed every dark alcove in the abandoned complex. Hives, these places were called, and used to house enormous numbers of lowborn folk under a single roof. In Menos, even the shabbiest roof was a desirable commodity, so the building’s ghostly vacancy meant that it likely was condemned by disease at one point. Soon the stairwell she sought appeared, and she tiptoed down it, careful not to slip on the stairs, which were slick with organic grunge.
Couldn’t have picked a nicer studio, she cursed. I’ll be lucky if this fleshcrafter leaves me with half a lip to drink with. Lamentably, speed and discretion were her two goals in choosing where to have her face remodeled. Such stipulations cut the more promising fleshcrafters off the list and left her with the dregs. She hadn’t put much thought into what she would have done, or even if she would end up hideously disfigured. Monstrous disfigurement could even work in her favor, as she bore an uncanny resemblance to that crow-eviscerated woman whom she suspected was the object of the nekromancer’s dark desire. I’ll take ugly over dead. Over whatever he has in mind for me.
Bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Feast of Fates, Christian A. Brown received a Kirkus star in 2014 for the first novel in his genre-changing Four Feasts Till Darkness series. He has appeared on Newstalk 1010, AM640, Daytime Rogers, and Get Bold Today with LeGrande Green. He actively writes a blog about his mother’s journey with cancer and on gender issues in the media. A lover of the weird and wonderful, Brown considers himself an eccentric with a talent for cat-whispering.