Monday, July 25, 2016

The Star-Crossed Han Alister

SPOILER WARNING: if you've not read Flamecaster, stop reading and put this aside until you have. Again: read Flamecaster  before you read this post. We’ll wait.
Don't say you were not warned. 


Ever since the release of the first novel in my Shattered Realms series, I've received feedback from loyal readers up in arms about something that happens early on to one of my own favorite characters--thief turned wizard consort Han sul'Alger. 
In Flamecaster, Han Alister is murdered while trying to save his son's life. 
         Readers who are new to the series took Han’s murder in stride. Bad things happen—that’s what creates conflict in story. 
         It’s my long-time readers who’ve cried foul. One loyal reader called it "gratuitous." Another predicted that his heart and soul would be crushed by my "brutal inky fist." Some thought it was an act of convenience, in order to make it easier for readers to move on, or a cheap emotional trick.
It didn't help that this happened in Chapter 2, before readers developed a relationship with Adrian, Lila, Jenna, and the others.
Even though, all along, the series has been presented as a stand-alone "spinoff" from the original, one that focuses on the next generation, some readers feel betrayed by the loss of a character they loved and planned to spend a lot more time with. 
In effect: You promised me a happy ending. No. Fair.
They are not appeased by the fact that Han and Raisa spent twenty-five mostly happy years together--years that did not make it onto the page, at least not yet. They are not moved by the argument that life goes on, and a happy ending is not a permanent condition of bliss, except in stories. But, in effect, that's what it seemed to be  until I wrote this next chapter. 
The worst part is that I knew what would happen, which is why it took me four years to get up the courage to write it. 
Some of you know that the first fiction I wrote set in the Seven Realms was an adult high fantasy series known as The Star-Marked Warder. Two of the main characters were teens--Adrian sul'Han and Jenna Bandelow. Adrian's parents, Han Alister and Queen Raisa ana'Marianna were adult characters in those stories. Han appeared only briefly, however, because one of the first things that happens is that he is murdered by assassins in the street, an event that has a profound effect on Adrian. 
At the time, this murder didn't take a huge emotional toll on me, because, after all, I did not know Han very well. It’s not murder and mayhem that puts us on the edge of our seats—it’s when characters we’ve come to know and love are at risk.
I’d written nearly 500,000 words set in that world when fate intervened in the form of a publication deal for The Warrior Heir, the contemporary YA fantasy that I was shopping at the time. I put my high fantasy stories aside, and wrote two more books in that series. 
I always intended to return to the Seven Realms, but found
I enjoyed writing for teens and wanted to continue to write for that audience. From experience with editors and readers, I knew that the stories I’d already written would required considerable revision.
It seemed easier at that point to start fresh. So I took the two adult characters, Han and Raisa, back to when they were teens, and wrote a prequel of sorts to the Star-Marked Warder. That became the Seven Realms series. 
In the process I grew to love Han and Raisa. Fiercely. The entire time I was writing about Han, I knew what would happen, in the same way that we know that our loved ones will die someday. I could live with it, as long as it was distant. But, now that I knew him, now that I’d heard his voice and shared his troubles and triumphs over four books, now that I’d experienced his dogged determination to find a path to happiness against all odds--I couldn't deal with carrying on with the story. 
So I didn’t. I wrote two more novels in my Heir Chronicles series and filled an entire folder with emails from Seven Realms readers asking for more.
What changed my mind is this: I loved the world I’d built and wanted to spend more time in it. I loved so many elements of the stories I’d written in those free times when I was not constantly working on deadline. While it needed extensive revision and reworking, I knew that the bones of a good story were there, complete with pirates and dragons and magemarked heroines.

At this point, the savvy reader might say, It’s your story—why don’t you change it? And I could. But Han’s murder has so much to do with what drives Ash and Alyssa through this series it seemed unfaithful to the story to make a change not to serve the story, but because I am a coward afraid of breaking my own heart—and the hearts of my readers.
         So I went forward, entrusting the story to Abby Ranger, an editor who’d worked on The Gray Wolf Throne and The Crimson Crown. Someone who would never allow me to take the easy way out.
I wanted to begin the story a year or two after the murder—so I would not have to witness it. Abby argued that readers deserved to be there, that these events that change lives need to be on stage, in scene, and not in the narrative. Something I’ve said myself in multiple writing workshops.       
A writer friend of mine tells me that I made a brave creative choice in what I did. If so, being brave sucks sometimes.
The truth is…sometimes the good die young. Sometimes the price of loving someone is the possibility of loss. Or, to paraphrase something Han Alister said as he lay dying in the street:
Tell her . . . tell her that having her . . . that being with her . . . that loving her . . . it was worth it.
It was worth it.

I hope that knowing Han, that spending time walking around in his skin through the pages of the Seven Realms – that it was worth the pain that follows. And I hope Han and Raisa’s children won’t let you down in their quest to make sense of a world that stole their father and sister from them.




20 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

Well, I am very sad Han died, but I've never been mad at you about it. I figure you have the right to write your story the way you want. And you certainly had justification for doing it like you did.

CindaChima said...

Have I ever told you that I love you, Natalie?

Chris Garlow said...

I was shocked at Han's death and it's true, it was harder to take before growing attached to his son and other characters of the book. After finishing the book I wouldn't change a thing. It's so true that his death drive's Adrian to do what he does and there probably wouldn't have been as good of a narrative had he not had this drive of revenge.

You are an amazing writer and I've been a fan from almost the beginning. I will always love everything you write. I would LOVE to one day read The Star-Marked Warder.

You are not afraid to kill of any of your characters like another author I know. When no one ever dies it doesn't feel like a reality, even though it's a fiction. The goal of writing fiction is to allow your readers to dive into this other world, where sometimes the impossible happens, but it's still a reality of sorts. On the other hand you are also not a ruthless killer of characters like another author I know that kills everyone that you become attached to.

You are truly amazing and your true fans will always know that no matter what twist and turns you take us on, it will be an amazing ride!

Margaret Parsons said...

I loved Han and Raisa. The tears started even before I let myself comprehend the scene I was reading. I totally understood where you were headed. Your choices were so organic to the world, the story, and the character. You said to me,once, (about a character I love) " I've seen him all grown up. in a way that told me my hopes for redemption would linger and die. I knew though that no matter my personal hopes for any character that you would give us a story that would make us dream, make us laugh out loud, and make us cry, often. I look forward to Shadowcaster.

Rebecca S said...

Han's death devastated me, but I was never angry. I loved his and Reisa's journey and can't wait to see what happens in future books. Thank you for your perspective. I think it's speaks about your abilities to have readers so devoted to a character.

Josh Ewart said...

This was very well written. While as a reader and writer I totally understand why this needed to happen, I too am in acceptance that this needed to happen, both for the story and for us to realize that there is cost. While there was cost in the Seven Realms, it was more from betrayal than from unexpected attacks.

Great Job!!!

Julia Chong said...

Ms. Chima I applaud you for taking such a risky step and going in a direction that not many other authors are willing to go. Your Seven Realms series introduced me to a world of books and they are the reason I have become a diligent reader and lover of books. Yes it was heartwrenching to read about Han's death but I look forward to the new generation's adventures! And yes we cannot ignore that Han and Raisa DID have the chance to live a "happily ever after" though it was cut short. After reading different book after book I've honestly gotten bored with the predictability and the too perfect "happily ever afters"...I like reading about something new and having the guts to kill off a major beloved character was just the "OH SNAP" factor I needed! I will continue to look forward to your next amazing creation with eager hands. -Forever a loyal reader

Irvin K said...

As a fierce fan of Seven Realms from the outset, which I've reread three or four times, that scene completely broke my heart. But I also understand that it was part of the story, and you'd built up enough goodwill over nine spectacular books that I trusted you. I was right to, of course, but it still didn't make it hurt less.

I can also see why it was necessary from a writing perspective. Pretty much as soon as Han appeared on the page, I mentally shifted into "Yaaaaay, more stories with Han!" and would have never cared as much about the other characters.

All that said... if Raisa does not live a VERY long happy life after this series, we will be having words!

Aidan Reemtah said...

No. I still haven't moved on from Han's death. No, I'm not mad at you because you have created the character. But I'm still shattered. I read most of the reviews of Flamecaster in goodreads. Most, like me, are absolutely distraught and have expressed they did not wish to continue reading the series. I guess it is fitting that this series is called Shattered Realms. You are a brilliant writer. But I just think that instead of killing a main character, killing a few supporting characters would've made the story bearable. Like in the Harry Potter series, there was so much anticipation on whether the main character Harry Potter would die or not. Too keep him alive, Rowling killed several beloved supporting actors. It is a trademark to keep main characters alive. Rick Riordan's famous Percy Jackson series also has a separate series called The Heroes of Olympus. Rick did not kill Percy Jackson. He may have not mentioned Percy as much in the new series, but did not kill him. Sometimes readers have the pleasure of reading books over and over again. But I have not picked up Flamecaster one since I finished it a couple of months ago. I still loved the book, gave a rating of five stars, partly because it was your story. I still have high hopes that you will resurrect Han Alister. I'm hoping that more people have the same thoughts as I do.

I don't know why I'm coming off as unknown, but this is Nadia Tahreem commenting.

CindaChima said...

Thank you, all, for your comments.

Marc Lomax said...

While Han's death was a huge shock and still leaves some lingering pain, I do understand why it had to happen. I love Han and when I read the teaser chapters my first word was literally, "No!" But after reading the full book, I believe it was the best for the story.

Though I still hold onto the hope that he took a note from Crow and sealed himself in the Amulet before he died.

Mike Lee said...

When I read the Flamecaster to sleep by listening to it and re-reading to get a better sense of what you were conveying. For me, I did feel betray, because I felt Han could have been the role mode that Alister needed like a change, since Han did not have a father figure to look up to.I wished it was a build up to his death instead of the darker tone within the first chapter. But you are the author and it touched your fans, so I respect your choice, I was never mad or betrayed by the words that you wrote. I read the seven realm series multiple times and you setup the tone and connection to your fans to created this reaction.
Thank You for writing great stories.

pocketstarfield said...

Reading this made me cry. I understand the author, the story, everything... It's just too heartbreaking.

Unknown said...

I wanted to believe it was a trick... That maybe Ash had been mistaken and left before realising that the death was fake. I patiently waited for my favorite streetlord to pop back in like the wild card we all know him to be...

Annamika said...

Commending you on a great point of view as to why Han had to die. Fell in love with this world when the third book, The Gray Wolf Throne had now come out. Never looked back since. I cried for a week when Han died and took a while to pick up Flamecaster to finish it off. Still pray wish and hope that Han is in that amulet but can live with him being gone all the same. Hope some flashbacks of them all as a family appear throughout the 3 remainder books to come in the Shattered Realms series and am excited to continue on Adrian sul'Han journey with him.

P.S. : Where does Dancer fit into all this... would like to know if he has children or if he is by himself or even if he's still alive.

Thank you for creating such a marvelous world that I dont think I can ever fall out of love with.

Annamika said...

Commending you on a great point of view as to why Han had to die. Fell in love with this world when the third book, The Gray Wolf Throne had now come out. Never looked back since. I cried for a week when Han died and took a while to pick up Flamecaster to finish it off. Still pray wish and hope that Han is in that amulet but can live with him being gone all the same. Hope some flashbacks of them all as a family appear throughout the 3 remainder books to come in the Shattered Realms series and am excited to continue on Adrian sul'Han journey with him.

P.S. : Where does Dancer fit into all this... would like to know if he has children or if he is by himself or even if he's still alive.

Thank you for creating such a marvelous world that I dont think I can ever fall out of love with.

CindaChima said...

You'll see Dancer in Book 2, though much of the focus is on his son, Shadow Dancer, who's neck-deep in the fight against Arden.

Aidan Reemtah said...

Though I love Dancer, Han was the heartthrob :-(

Dreamer said...

I find it hard to move on from Han's death but the explanation that you give on why it happened does help to some extent in accepting it...I guess. Or at least understanding it. By the looks of it, there are more books to come in the Shattered Realms (4 like the first series?) and I'm still holding out hope that magic might prevail and Han can return (or he isn't actually dead but inside the amulet the whole time or something like that??). But even if he doesn't (small sigh), I will still look forward to your next book, because I love your books. I'll just have to read the Seven Realms series again.

CindaChima said...

Thank you, Dreamer. All I can say is, Keep reading. Just finishing up book #3 and then on to #4.