Yesterday I had a discussion with someone regarding what my new book, Empire’s Reckoning, is really about: not its plot, but its theme. Its deeper story, if you will. (There are no spoilers here; you can keep reading.) “Courage comes in many forms: a hero’s weapon is not always a sword,” I have written in the pre-publication advertising. But that could say: “Courage is seeing a life past betrayal,” because that is closer to the heart of the book.
By betrayal, I do not necessarily mean duplicity, or disloyalty (or not only), but also the tiny betrayals of expectation: expectations of others, of our governments, of our cultures and friends and loves, and, importantly, of ourselves. Of our own best intentions, of our belief in our own abilities and motives and actions. All my main characters but one– and there are five now, in one of the two timelines in the book – face this loss, this realization of imperfection in ourselves and those we love.
My characters react to those betrayals, large and small, external or internal, in different ways, and to say more would be spoiling the story. I began Empire’s Reckoning two summers ago, long before COVID, but I can’t help thinking about its theme now in the face of our collective confusion and sense of betrayal. I’ve written before about how the overall theme of the series is about the power and limits of love to provide shelter and sanctuary in a turbulent world. In Reckoning, I ask that question again, but this time the turbulence is mostly from within, from the breaking of implicit contracts and the shattering of beliefs.
We too have had beliefs shattered, implicit contracts broken as the world grapples with COVID. We too are facing loss, bewildered by the change in our lives. We are afraid, angry, confused, exhausted, but also compassionate, generous, altruistic. We focus on ourselves, and we worry for others. I’m not saying Reckoning is a guidebook to navigating the changed world we find ourselves in. But as I emerge from the cocoon of creating a book, and am thinking more about what the post-COVID world might be, I wonder. Can I be as brave as my characters, and find in this upheaval the guideposts to uncharted ways, to a different way of living in this world?