I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again (before this column dies the hero of Black Gate or lives long enough to become its villain): I love a novel that’s about conflict resolution through words.
Part of this is because it’s difficult to nail a tense, well-paced SFF novel without some fight scenes or a climactic action sequence. With the way that Avi Silver expands the scope of The Sãoni Cycle in Three Seeking Stars, with an incoming imperial invasion and a breakdown of unity among Eiji’s communities, you might expect things to devolve into swordfights and other stereotypical “action.” Instead, Silver focuses on conflict through conversation – those difficult, honest but necessary conversations concerning what people need, their boundaries and how to move forward. It’s a very human style of storytelling, with the bonus of big lizards caught up in human-dominated problems.
There’s a great line partway through Stars about how it isn’t compromise if no one’s getting what they want. Throughout the novel, protagonists Sohmeng, Hei and Ahn are trying to compromise, either with each other or with themselves, which is one of the most difficult things to do as a human. Ahn’s struggle is particularly compelling as he tries to figure out how to be the “good prince” while wrapping his head around how much he’s hated by people outside of his homeland. It’s honestly a brilliant way of addressing the difficulty some people have reconciling things like colonialism, when as far as they’re concerned, they haven’t hurt anyone themselves. On top of that, Ahn’s desperation to connect with his lost partner Schenn kept getting me in the feels, partly because it’s never explicitly stated how much Schenn’s spirit (if we can call it that) is supposed to be attached to Ahn. (That sort of undefined magic is also great.)
Big topics aside, really Stars is about connection. It’s about partners Sohmeng and Hei figuring out the deeper, more complex aspects of their relationship. It’s about Sohmeng figuring out family beyond Hei and the sãoni (which I can’t say anything more about, because spoilers – but there’s an absolutely brilliant scene involving Hei, sãoni alpha Mama and a character I can’t name that floored me in its execution and will forever be a scene I refer back to while working on my own craft). It’s about presenting a world where gender fluidity and the importance of pronouns is simply embedded in society, in a way I think a lot of writers could learn from. And it’s about identity and figuring out what it means to adult and deal with other adults. Which, let’s be honest, none of us completely understand, so sometimes we just need to scream our frustrations when things become too much.
All of this is balanced with a narrative that’s just plain fun. What miscommunication or foible could we throw at these characters that would be problematic for one, hilarious for someone else and beautiful for the reader? That’s what Silver does, in a narrative that has what so many authors strive for and only a few achieve: heart.
You can preorder Three Seeking Stars using the link above or by visiting The Shale Project website.
An Ottawa teacher by day, Brandon has been published in On Spec, Pulp Literature, THIS Magazine, and elsewhere. Check out his latest article discussing solarpunk in fantasy over at The Story Engine Blog. You can follow Brandon at brandoncrilly.wordpress.com or on Twitter: @B_Crilly.