Table of Contents
ALSO BY MICHELLE SAGARA WEST
Cast in Shadow
The Sundered Series
Children of the Blood
Lady of Mercy
Chains of Darkness, Chains of Light
The Sacred Hunt Duology
The Sun Sword Series
The Broken Crown
The Uncrowned King
The Shining Court
Sea of Sorrows
The Riven Shield
*As Michelle Sagara
**As Michelle West
I think that more work is done, by more people, on a first novel than on any that follow, and I'd like to thank the people who know best the truth of this: editor, Veronica Chapman, who saw something in the book that I first sent and was kind enough to put up with all of my ignorance about publishing; her associate Deborah, who didn't laugh when I asked about type-faces, among other things; and Gord Davis, who could probably, with humor and ease, sell a wolf to a shepherdâbut wouldn't, on principle.
And to this, in 2005, I would like to add my thanks to Glenn Yeffeth of BenBella books, and Meghan Kuckelman for her kindness in shepherding me through the happy world of the production assistant, a job so entirely necessary and so often invisible when all things go according to plan. I'd also like to thank Kenn Brown and Chris Wren for giving me an absolutely glorious cover; I may have waited over a decade for it, but things late are often more valued for the wait.
For Thomas, who must know, better than anyone, that a few pages a day is a poor return for all that you give me. I couldn't have written this, or anything that might follow it, without you. Proof? Read it; try to tell me where, in these words, you can't be found.
For Thomas, because what was true then, is still true. At the heart of these words, the thing I remember most is what it was like to be engaged to be married when the world was full of possibility and the dreams of being a writer. Those dreams, you kept, and because you could, I wrote.
Well. I asked for this small bit of space before the story because I wanted to say something about it. But sitting here, there's either too little to say, or too much. This is not going to come as a huge surprise to many of my readers.
When I first conceived of the story itself, I thought it would be a short story, because I knew the ending. Then, when I realized that to make the ending work emotionally I had to actually have a story
of it, I thought it would be a novella. And when I finished the first book, I knew it would be at least two books. Now, it is actually four novels long, but the ending is what I envisioned before I began to set words on paper.
But back a bit, because back story is important. When I was near the tail end of university, I was at that happy ageâyes, that's ironic usageâin which I realized I would have to do something with my life. Until then, I'd been coasting. I had always written, and I had always loved fantasy novelsâthey were the heart of my reading. But for the previous three years I had written mostly poetry, which is a very different form.
Poetry, for me, speaks to experienceâthe aha! moment in which you both recognize what the writer is talking about and at the same time see it with new eyes. Prose, on the other hand, is meantâagain, to meâto invoke an experience that the reader
had before, to walk them toward it, laying out the stones of the road they'll follow.
So the writing of the first novel was difficult in many ways, because poetry distils event, and prose expands on it. Language is also used differently, and mine had been camped in the very spare modern world of free verse.
I wrote my first book over a period of six months, and then
revised it. Then I sent it off into the world and started writing the second book.
The first book came back with a very enthusiastic rejection letter, and the editor asked me to call her, which I did. This resulted in more revision, after which the editor passed the novel on to Lester del Rey, with her recommendation to buy. Lester then went on to reject the book, and one of the things that he really hated about it was the fact that the story didn't begin where it should have.
I read his four-page letter and winced a lot, but I found it enormously useful. It was beyond blunt, but I was prepared for that because Lester del Rey didn't do anything that wasn't, as far as I can tell, beyond blunt.
And then I started the novel you're holding now. The events of the novel were told in a ninety-odd-page flashback toward the end of the book. This flashback I then removed and threw out.
I started again, from the beginning, and of all the novels I've written, I think this one was the easiest to write because emotionally I
what it had to be, and I'd been given the roomâeven the mandateâto make it so. When I finished, I once again revised it and sent it back to my editor, the very perky Veronica Chapman. She passed it back to Lester, and this time he liked it enough to offer to publish it.
I was, as they say, over the moon. (No, I don't know why they say this.) But after
, I was once again left with a number of revisions, the first of which was: add description. I added ten thousand words of description; this was actually very difficult and in many cases involved rewriting entire scenes. But once again, this taught me something useful, and I confess that one review mentioned the lack of description even after I'd added so many words.
But at that point, it was a book. It was, I thought, finished. Then I learned the next important thing from the experience: that once it's finished, once it's out there, there are no more opportunities for revision; it's not software, there is no version 2.0. Unless you're David Gerrold, but I digress.
Years later, I'm not the writer I was then. This should come as no surprise, because I'm not really the person I was then. There are authors who hate the sight of their first novels, seeing in them only the flaws that later experience prevents. I would have to say that I'm torn; I
see things here that I would do entirely differently were I to write the story now, and I see
things thatâyesâmake me wince. But I also see, in the writing, the heart of the story that moved me; I know that it was the very best book I could have written
at that time.
It is still, among many of my readers, their favorite work. The flaws that I see, they don't, or perhaps they don't care; it isn't the flaws that drive them, after all. I had considered revising the book before it was reissued, but a conversation on-line cured me of the impulse, and even the desire. It wasn't about my book, oddly enough; it was about another author's revisions of his earlier work.
What he had done to make the book betterâin his own eyes, and for his own aesthetic sensibilitiesâhad taken some essential part of the experience of reading the book away from those readers who loved the earlier version. It had never occurred to me to look at my own writing in this light; I think about text, in all ways, first as a writer, and I can never approach my own work as anything but a writer.
But readers don't do that unless the book isn't working for them; they read as readers, and their first impressions, especially emotional ones, are
true. It's my belief that a book exists as something in the space between the writer and the reader; that before a reader comes along, it's waiting in limbo, missing a vital half of something that isn't quite conversation and isn't quite monologue. But what a reader makes of text, and what I try to convey, are often different, sometimes wildly and sometimes only barely; I don't argue for specific interpretations unless they're entirely based on fact, and often not even then.
One of my readers said to me, after finishing this novel, that it was Beauty and the Beast at heart. It had never occurred to me that this was the case; I didn't do it on purpose. But I could see what she meant the moment she said it, because Beauty and the Beast was my favorite fairy tale, and I own many different versions of it. What I had taken at a very early age into my own heart grew there, and it grew into something I couldn't easily recognize until someone else pointed it out.
So, the book remains as it was then, and I can read it now and wonder, a little, at who I was when I was twenty-five, and at how strongly I believed in this particular story, this dark romance.
âMichelle Sagara West
From the teachings of the Lady of Elliath, First
Servant of Lernan, God,
to the Lines of the Sundered.
All life has a beginning,
and in that sense even the mountains
and the earth we dwell upon are alive. But imagine, if you can, a thing which has no such life, and no unfolding: It is, it has been, it will be. This is a hard task, but I ask it only for a moment, for I will tell you of our beginnings, and I, too, must start somewhere.
There was the Light, and there was the Dark. The Light was glorious, ordered, strong; the Dark, ugly and twisted. Each slept in perfection; each spread cold dreams in a wide net, reaching ever outward. Thus did They find each other.
The Light touched the Dark; the Dark the Lightâand both were awakened. And where They touched, They frayed into small, moving strands of Light and Darkness. Thus were the Sundered born, the Servants of the two, like their parents to your eyes, but lesser and diminished by the method of their creation. Still, the Sundered of the Light cleaved to Light; the Sundered of the Dark, to Darkness.
I was the first Sundered of the Light; I beheld the first Sundered of the Darkness and I knew him for my enemy. It was my first thought, my only thought. With my brethren of the Sundered, I prepared for battle.
Battle we did, for the Dark would consume all without our resistance. The voice of the Light was strong and sure. Stars grew, stars died, and in the cadence of His words, we found strength and glory; battle all but consumed us.
Yet neither Dark nor Light was victorious. The Sundered fell
around me until my Lord could bear their loss no longer. I remember it well, for Light cut the void as He moved in a dwindling spiral toward the Enemy. I knew there was danger, but I did not know its nature and I could not follow the path that my Lord made; it was too bright, too fast. Yet the Dark must have felt His purpose and His boundless anger, for Darkness began to trace His own path, His own menace, across the vastness. He made no retreat, but instead moved to meet my Lord. The First Sundered of the Enemy made haste to follow, even as Iâbut who among the Servants, whether of Light or Dark, could hope to match the swiftness of their masters? Although we traveled with all haste, nothing was left for us in the end but to watch.