Guest Blog: Jon Sprunk on Identity in Blood and Iron

Jon Sprunk, author of my recently reviewed Blood and Iron talks a little about the identity of my two favourite characters in the first book of his new epic fantasy trilogy: Alyra the slave, and Queen Byleth. Blood and Iron is out, so check out my review and if this little insight piques your interest – what are you waiting for? Go forth and purchase Blood and Iron: Part One of The Book of the Black Earth! You won’t regret it.

DSCF2142Hello, folks. I’d like to thank Leo for giving me this chance to talk with you today. I’m Jon Sprunk, a fantasy author living in central Pennsylvania. I wrote the Shadow Saga trilogy (Pyr Books), and this March I’m beginning a new epic fantasy series, starting with the first volume, Blood and Iron.

When Leo approached me with the idea of writing about identity, so many ideas went through my mind. As a writer, a huge part of my job is to create identities. Characters in fiction often need to be realistic in the sense that they act and talk the way that a real person might, but they also have to be bigger than life to capture our imaginations.

There are many characters in my new series, but two stand out when I think about this topic. The first is Alyra du’Braose. She is a slave, a handmaiden serving the queen of Erugash. For three years she has been serving in the palace, suffering degradation and cruelty. However, this is all a ruse. She is a spy from another country and she volunteered to let herself be taken as a slave so she could get close to the ruling class. Through the course of the book, she becomes involved with another character who also finds himself in the queen’s power, and together they form a bond that both comforts her and threatens to disrupt her mission, something she can’t allow to happen. One of Alyra’s primary conflicts is the fight between her heart and her head.

The second character is the queen herself, Byleth et’Urdrammor. If that name seems like a mouthful, it’s because these books are set in a fictional empire based on a combination of ancient Babylon and Egypt. Byleth is a potent sorceress with a strong personality, but she also has very powerful enemies within the empire. Her father attempted an unsuccessful coup against the other nine city-states of Akeshia and paid for it with his life. When Blood and Iron begins, Byleth is barely holding on to her throne, but she has plans in motion. Those schemes are thrown into disarray when a foreigner from across the sea is shipwrecked in her realm, for he possesses a power not seen in the empire for a long, long time. If she tries to use him, it could free her from the grasp of her enemies, or it could ruin her.Blood-and-Iron-Jon-Sprunk

Both these women are caught up in circumstances larger than themselves, but they strive to rise above their challenges and make a better future. Byleth’s aims are certainly more motivated by self-interest, though Alyra has been in deep cover for so long she sometimes has difficulty separating her own desires from the mission’s requirements. In these two characters, I enjoyed playing with the power dynamics. What are the limitations of a queen? What freedoms does a slave possess? And so on.

Lastly, when I think about identity and these characters, I wonder how far they would be willing to go in order to achieve their goals. It’s an easier answer for Byleth. She was born to royalty in a culture that ties her status to godhead. She doesn’t have much personal experience with the lives of her subjects; they exist to serve her, in essence. Thus, she’s willing to entertain almost any idea, no matter how ruthless, in order to secure her throne. Alyra shares some of this thinking because of her single-minded focus on her mission, but some part of her still operates from empathy for others. She got into the spy game to make a positive difference in the world (and partly for revenge), so she isn’t as quick to put aside her personal morals to justify the ends.

I hoped you enjoyed this glimpse into a couple characters from my new series. It’s been a pleasure.

Thank you, for talking about two incredible women in an incredibly rich and developed world. 

If you like the sound of this, then check out Jon’s other trilogy, the Shadow Saga (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, Shadow’s Master), which is another awesome example of why Jon is a writer to watch in the future. You can connect with Jon on Twitter,his website, and over at Black Gate, where he is a regular blogger, talking SFF and geekdom. 

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