This chapter has been coming for a long time and has gone through all sorts of iterations. Let’s compare some of the versions that have existed:
- The first draft of the book, back then simply called ‘Evinden’, had the death of Fenris occur much earlier, at the same time as the fall of Aviar. Back in that first draft things were very different, though, as Pienya Martoc had actually pursued them over the mountains – and after Aviar fell, she then attacked on the rim of the crater, and Fenris was killed in the battle. Of course, in draft 2 she never follows them (because that would have been stupid), so things had to chance.
- That led to my original plan with The Mechanical Crown, whereby Fenris would die while sacrificing himself to save others during the fall of Aviar. So the same timing as in the first draft, but very different circumstances. However, once I got to that point in the story I ran into two problems: logistically,, it wasn’t possible to force Fenris into a situation that would a) result in his death AND b) let him be heroic. The scale of the destruction simply didn’t allow it, without stumbling into Forced Plot Beat Hell. So at the very last moment Fenris survived. This helped in all sorts of ways, as he was then able to play a part in the aftermath, and we got to see the impact of his decisions in his conscience.
- Fenris was still on borrowed time, though, and thus we get to this chapter and his ultimate fate. It’s a smaller incident: he saves one person, rather than doing some big heroic thing to save hundreds of Avii. Curiously, Pienya is back as the perpetrator, so that’s a weird bit of synchronicity with the original draft. Crucially, though, the person he saves is KIRYA, his ward, closest friend, and essentially surrogate daughter. That is so much more satisfying than had he saved a bunch of anonymous Aviar civilians.
The result, of course, is that we’ve still ended up with Fenris dead. Previously in the story we’ve had Hachim’s death, but he was very much a minor supporting character. With Fenris we have a major player who has been there from the very beginning. That means his removal from the story denies me – and you – a significant narrator voice. Plus it’ll have major impacts on the other characters and the flow of the story.
All of that means that writing this chapter was fairly harrowing to put together. I usually do the bulk of my writing on a Tuesday, but actively put it off this time round, as I simply didn’t want it to happen.
This turned out to be a good thing as the extra dev time resulted in me flipping the chapter on its head somewhat. My original thinking was to have the bulk of the chapter be about more of the battle, from Fenris’ POV, with the chapter ending shockingly with his death. I realised, though, that I didn’t want it to be a big, shocking end to the chapter – that wasn’t the kind of send-off I wanted for Fenris. Instead, I decided to have his death happen fairly near the start – it ended up being about halfway through, I think – and then diving into a stream of life memories as he dies. Very much ‘life flashing before his eyes’.
I have to admit to being entirely inspired here by Elif Shafak, who I was RIDICULOUSLY fortunate to have worked with last week at London Book Fair, where I set up an interview between her and the broadcaster Bidisha. Elif was discussing her fab new list of great women writers working in the UK for the International Literature Showcase (nationalcentreforwriting.org.uk/ils/). Near the end of the interview, Elif talks about the book she is currently writing, which is all about the protagonist re-experiencing their life in their dying moments as their brain shuts down. It sounds like an amazing premise. You can listen to the entire interview on the podcast:
Anyway, that inspired me to make Fenris’ death less about shock and tragedy and much more about his LIFE. The chapter becomes reflective and thoughtful and hopefully poignant and affirming, in a way. It’s funny how chapters can evolve via unexpected external influences.
Mike Miller · March 30, 2019 at 2:01 am
As I said on Wattpad you absolutely nailed this chapter. If you had the opportunity to tell Ms. Shafak, I’m certain she’d appreciate the influence she had in structuring this chapter, because the “life flashing” sequence brilliantly ups the pathos and let you sneak in a last-second infodump of background that would have been impossible to address in any other way (besides having Fenris just tell Kirya).
Really a quite effective send-off. For the last time I doff my hat to you for taking a character with the ominous name of ‘Fenris Silt,” someone so OBVIOUSLY placed to be a major betrayer (of our “heroes” – as you’ve noted he “betrayed” his King, but it was in service to a higher ideal…) and turned him into one of the most sympathetic and noble of the lot.
I’m still waiting for the fallout when Tarn finds out and hope Kirys and Tranton together can give Tarn the moral guidance the boy knew he needed from the old sage. We’ll see.
Simon Jones · March 30, 2019 at 9:12 am
Thanks, Mike! It’s funny how timing and coincidence plays such a large part in creative projects. If I hadn’t happened to have been working at London Book Fair on that podcast interview (not to mention if a different curator had been involved in the showcase, or if Bidisha hadn’t asked about Elif’s next book, or, or, or…..) then I’d have probably gone down a very different route with the design of this chapter. It’s one of the curiosities of writing in the weekly form, in that it opens up a LOT of potential influences – if I could theoretically write the entire book in 1 month I’d miss out on that big melting pot of cultural nudges.
Having the ‘life flashing before his eyes’ send-off is really critical to creating the right tone to his death. There’s a bittersweet tragedy to it, reflected in the duality of his life and the fact that he’s rarely ever been able to just ‘be himself’.