Alpennia is all about challenging and subverting default paradigms and tropes, simply by its existence and by the people and stories it focuses on. But it can be tricky to have the characters themselves challenge those paradigms without falling into the trap of pausing for set-piece speeches. Consider, for example, the problem of both portraying and challenging the types of social prejudice endemic to early 19th century Europe without turning my characters into 21st century progressive activists. Even those who were addressing racial, religious, and class issues in that era often did it in ways we'd consider wince-worthy today. And it was functionally impossible for people of that era to think about gender and sexuality in ways that my readers would consider truly enlightened.
So it's not uncommon for the "challenge" on the page to struggle to break free of simply identifying and acknowledging the problem. Luzie ponders how the working class in Rotenek would view all the grand ceremony around mysteries that are intended to benefit them just as much as to benefit the intellectuals and upper class participants who perform them. She has no answers, but we see her recognizing the problem. Akezze regularly tries to push Margerit to understand that the solutions she devises to the question of women's eduction are excluding groups that have barriers she hasn't considered. Antuniet and Jeanne consider Anna Monterrez to be almost like an adopted daughter, without understanding how the religious divide feels from her side, and how carefully she has to balance on that line to be accepted.
One default paradigm that Mother of Souls addresses is that of the standard romance plot. But even when the characters acknowledge the tyranny of that plot, they often seem helpless to challenge it effectively. Serafina watched the illusion of a romantic marriage die slowly, but she hasn't entirely shaken free of the assumption that the ideal form of love is a permanent partnership. The author (no spoilers!) of that annoying roman a clef that causes Barbara and Margerit so much trouble operates from two deep-rooted paradigms: that a close affectionate partnership must be completed by romance...and that a romance must be heterosexual. Our heroines' lives deny the latter, but fail to challenge the former.
When Luzie and Serafina start hammering out the plot for the opera Tanfrit, they butt heads over the question of a romance plot. Luzie knows opera; the shape of the genre absolutely requires it. Serafina only reluctantly surrenders a concern for historical authenticity (to the extent that the concept is even meaningful in opera!) and the contradictory evidence of both their lives. The finished work is a carefully crafted piece of art, but when Luzie falls into metaphoric thinking--into reasoning about the world from the internal rules of their own creation--Serafina reins her in. Tanfrit is fiction, not fact, and as fiction it follows the shape its creators gave it. Taking that shape and considering it to reflect eternal verities of the world leads to error. (Just how complicated those errors are will--I hope--eventually be made clear if/when I write the Tanfrit novel.)
This is the last teaser for Mother of Souls. (The chapter is followed only by a coda that echoes the opening prelude...and contains some very vague hints for Floodtide.) I'll have to think a bit about what sort of writing-related blogging I want to do for the next season.
Chapter 32: Luzie
The scene where Gaudericus refused Tanfrit’s gift of the forbidden book had been expanded and rewritten. Now they both came to realize it was learning, not power, they sought. And in a soaring duet they reject and refuse all sorcery, consigning the text to the fire and pledging themselves to seeking only wisdom and knowledge. That was the heart of the mystery, where the power of the music, amplified through the attention of the audience, would strike out against the…the whatever it was they were fighting. A blow that might be unneeded or might be their last hope of success. In the opera, the moment was Tanfrit’s glorious triumph before her tragic fall, when Gaudericus refused to return her carnal love. And then, as before, the river, the flood, the remorse, the dedication.
She saw that finale differently now.
“Yes?” Serafina turned, her hands still trying silently to guide the musicians to her vision.
“It was a tragedy—that Gaudericus couldn’t love her the way she wanted—but it wasn’t wrong. It was only his nature. Serafina, promise me you’ll never throw yourself in a river. Not for me. Not for anyone.”
Serafina looked confused for only a moment, then said solemnly, “I promise I’ll never throw myself in the river. But never forget that we wrote that story. We chose that ending. We don’t know what was truly in their hearts. We don’t even know that Tanfrit really did drown herself.”
That wasn’t what she’d meant. Luzie swallowed hard and tried once more. “I want you to find…to find what you’re seeking. I wish I could have been it.”