On Kings and Assassins

lane robins

Writing the sequel to Maledicte was an interesting challenge, since I had originally thought of Maledicte as a stand-alone novel. Sure, it has some loose ends waving in the breeze, but life’s like that. A little messy.

So when it came time to work on the sequel, I had two choices: continue the misadventures of Maledicte in the Explorations, or come at the second book from a new angle.

For me, writing books is all about exploring a character. I’m fascinated by people in general, by what makes them tick, but more, I’m fascinated by the masks people wear. Even the most average of person tends to have an array of masks that they pull out for different occasions. We tend to modify our thoughts, our behavior by the company we’re with. Teenagers are the most vivid example of that: they act one way in class, another way with their friends, a third way with their family, a fourth way with the girl/boy they want to impress. Their entire life is about masks, trying them on, seeing what fits.

Adults are not immune to mask-wearing either, though the changes are more subtle: we adapt our mask to work with our bosses, our acquaintances, different sets of friends, and in grimmer cases, to hide dangerous habits—how many stories about killers are capped by someone saying, “But he seemed like such a nice man. . . .”

Then, there’s my favorite type of mask, the kind that you can only uncover in fiction. The man who doesn’t know what mask he’s wearing, doesn’t even know himself.

Given all that, when it came time to choose a main character, is it any surprise that I chose Janus Ixion, earl of Last, to be my lead? The man readers thought they knew. The man they’d seen defined through other people’s eyes. And a young man who didn’t really know himself. Ruthless, yes, but for what purpose? Maledicte assumed that all Janus’s political maneuverings were profit-driven, a shield against their past as children in the slums of Antyre, but here, I got to play with the question: was Maledicte right? Was that Janus’s only motivation?

The answer was no.

As I reread Maledicte, one scene leaped out at me. Soon after their reunion, Maledicte and Janus hit the town and Janus starts reading the papers, commenting on the news. From that moment, I realized that Janus Ixion cared about his country. Cared immensely. Was, in fact, a man with a vision, a plan, and the utter willingness to bring about a new future for the country, no matter the cost. Gaining the throne was no longer about personal profit, but instead, the simplest path to restoring Antyre.

To move Janus through the book, I stripped off his masks, revealed him to the people around him, and let him ask himself a question: which mattered more to him? Antyre’s successful future, or his own?