The War of Songs

I had a process post lined up for this spot, but it occurred to me that it might help—in the interests of science—to know what these books are actually meant to be about. I was thinking that would be clear from the beats and synopses, but I’m actually not sure that’s the case; those are outgrowths of things that have been composting in my head for years, and references that are clear to me might not be clear to you. In case this hasn’t made it absolutely clear, this post contains serious spoilers, particularly for The Claim. (Though, of course, all spoilers are provisional—the book isn’t finished yet!)

The first three books in this series, anyway, follow an ex-soldier named Esker Sepherene, who hails from a small desert village called Metu in the territory of Heru, which will soon receive province status. We first see him, in The Claim, returning from a long campaign; he was recruited as a teenager along with the other boys his age, all but one of whom have survived to return. The Claim follows him in two parallel stories: Right after his return, and some unspecified amount of time later, where he and his friends have joined a group of runeslingers to go prospecting in the ruined desert city of Jagaag. The driving question early in The Claim is: What brought Esker from the return to his village, which seemed peaceful and happy, to risk his life as a prospector?

The answer emerges gradually, though it only raises more questions. Esker’s wife, Hasina, can’t speak. Esker is looking for a piece of technology to help her. Hasina can’t speak because no women in Heru can speak: They are mutilated at birth, their tongues cut out. (As with all social generalities, there are exceptions to “no women in Heru can speak”: a religious minority called the Chanters does not Hush their women, nor do the Rooks, who are native to Jaidar and live in and around the dead cities.) The Hush prevents women from using magic; they are used as batteries by Heru’s climate sorcerers, who calibrate the desert climate to grow a plant that produces a magical substance called black silver. This is all part of normal life in Heru and the other Hushed territories of Jaidar, so it’s going to emerge as background over the course of the books. Esker has, of course, had some particular experiences that sensitize him to the horror and wrongness of forced female silence, and those will come out over the course of The Claim and The Candidate.

Back in the ruins of Jagaag, Esker and his group find that their claim has been jumped by the Tungsten Kid, an outlaw feared across all the deserts of Jaidar. They ultimately have to strike a deal with the city’s Rook indigenes to take it back. With their help, Esker prevails, and succeeds in finding the technology he’s looking for. And now the stage is set for a major social upheaval, as we learn that Esker doesn’t just intend to give the tech to his wife—he intends to fabricate it and distribute it across Jaidar, so anyone who’s silent and wants a voice can have one. The Candidate will deal with Esker’s return to Metu and Hasina, and how the village is dealing with the social questions that arise as Heru territory prepares to become a province of Jaidar—in particular, the question of whether the Hush will continue to be legal there, or whether it will be outlawed as it is in the Voiced provinces to the east.

There are a lot of questions here, and I’m not going to answer them all, in part because the process of outlining has been the process of answering. The above is more or less the level of detail that I get to from woolgathering and contemplation. There are a lot more characters and a lot more ideas than I’ve mentioned here, but this is the core of the thing: A social organization that’s awful but at least slightly rational, a “hero” who’s out to disrupt it in some way, out of something like love; and consequences. Presumably the previous paragraph makes the series title at least a little bit clear: How a war might come about, why it might have something to do with songs. As to how we get from a high concept draped over a skeleton of plot to a proper story, we’ll get to that in my next post, on outlining.

The War of Songs

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