Brian Staveley burst onto the SFF scene with his debut novel The Emperor’s Blades in 2014 and I loved it. But I was even more impressed with the sequel The Providence of Fire. As such, it is no surprise that I’m really looking forward to seeing how the story ends in The Last Mortal Bond. What fascinated me most about the series is the intricacy of the sibling bonds in The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne. The dynamics between Kaden, Adare, and Valyn are fascinating; there is so much love, anger, jealousy, and loyalty that complicates their relationships. I asked Brian about why the sibling bond can make for such a great narrative driver. You can find his answer below.
Hitler’s Sister; Fiction and the Sibling Bond
If friends are the family you choose, family is the family you don’t get to choose. Your parents are your parents, your children, your children, and no amount of railing against your siblings will make them anything other than your siblings. Your brother might murder millions—he’s still your brother. Joseph Stalin had two: Mikhail and Georgy. Hitler had a sister, Paula.
While the ineluctable nature of the sibling bond is, no doubt, unfortunate for those genetically linked to history’s great monsters, but it’s pure gold for writers. Situations that are easy for a character to escape, after all, don’t make for good drama. The excitement from most situations depends on a feeling of entrapment: people can be trapped in cages, or on mountains, or remote ski resorts snowed in for the winter, they can be trapped in wells or beneath burning tractors, but often the most interesting forms of entrapment are human relationships.
I realize this sounds cynical, but it’s an author’s job to make things tough on their characters, and there are few things tougher than a difficult relationship from which escape is impossible. As I sit writing this piece, a friend of mine just sat down to chat. He’s a tall, strong, bearded man in his mid-sixties. He likes running the chainsaw and clearing land. It’s tough to imagine him not having made it to his sixties, but he just told me the story of how, when he was twenty-two, his own brother took out a life-insurance policy on him, saying, “You’re gonna die and I’m gonna have to pay for your fucking funeral!” This is the brother whose car my friend crashed, then repaired by stealing a different color bumper from another car, replacing the original bumper, then refusing to acknowledge that the new bumper was, in fact, a new bumper.
If a friend pulled this kind of stunt, you might well rethink the friendship. You’d have the option, at the very least. With family, however, there’s a lot less to rethink. Even if you disown your brother, he’s still your brother; the people I know who don’t talk to their siblings (or parents) are still haunted by them, and haunting, of course, is the stuff of good fiction.
The stakes are only higher when the siblings in question wield significant power. Family drama becomes political drama; the scale shifts from the intimate to the epic. The psychology of childhood slight can transmute, under the right (or wrong) circumstances, into a war that engulfs nations. It’s one thing to block your brother’s inheritance, another entirely if that inheritance is an empire.
And, of course, there’s tragedy lurking in the sibling bond as well. In a contest between unrelated strangers, there can be an unambiguous winner, but any victory over a sibling, even an evil sibling, is inherently ambivalent. David Kaczynski turned in his brother, the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, but you can hear in his interviews that there was no triumph in the moment, no exaltation, only a sense of grief. It’s a heartbreaking story, but the good stories are often heartbreaking, and for those of us in the business of telling them, the drama inherent in the sibling bond offers almost unlimited opportunity.
Bio: After teaching literature, philosophy, history, and religion for more than a decade, Brian began writing epic fantasy. His first book, The Emperor’s Blades, the start of his series, Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award, the Reddit Stabby for best debut, and scored semi-finalist spots in the Goodreads Choice Awards in two categories: epic fantasy and debut. second book in the trilogy, The Providence of Fire, was also a Goodreads Choice semi-finalist. The concluding volume of the trilogy, The Last Mortal Bond, is published by TOR UK on 24 March.
Brian lives on a steep dirt road in the mountains of southern Vermont, where he divides his time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and adventuring, not necessarily in that order. He can be found on Twitter at @brianstaveley, Facebook as brianstaveley, and Google+ as Brian Staveley. His blog, On the Writing of Epic Fantasy, can be found at: bstaveley.wordpress.com