At school I was a huge fan of English, and I went on to do an English Literature and Language degree at university. One of the things we did was read a novel or poem and then work out the themes, the deeper meaning and what we thought the author really meant (which they probably didn’t mean at all but, you know, we had to write something halfway intelligent in our essays!).
So, in the spirit of a number of English lessons I vividly remember where we dissected Lord of the Flies by William Golding until there was absolutely nothing left of the story, here I ‘go deep’ on seven themes in my second novel.
Violya, the second book in my gritty epic fantasy trilogy In the Heart of the Mountains has some key themes running through it. These have been inspired by real life – including some of the major things happening to our world right now, as well as some of the more personal experiences I’ve gone through.
The refugee crisis dominated the news when I was first thinking about the trilogy back in 2016. Displaced people fleeing from war-torn Syria, from conflict in Afghanistan and elsewhere, were desperately trying to save themselves and their families by moving to a safer country, often in Europe.
However, some countries opened their arms to refugees, some did not. And, some, although giving refuge to significant numbers of migrants, did not treat them humanely upon arrival or during their stay in holding camps.
In Violya, there is a stark contrast in attitude to the no-homers, as they’re known, by the Peqkians of the country Peqkya and the Trogrs of Troglo. The Sema people have fled their war-ravaged country, embarking on a harrowing journey to arrive in the mountains at the border between Peqkya and Troglo. They are exhausted and their numbers depleted due to the harsh and unforgiving journey. They give themselves over to the care of the Peqkians/Trogrs.
As an exhausted, bereaved refugee says: “We cannot return to Sema. We escaped horrific deaths in our country, all I hope is that we haven’t walked into the same in this place.”
The Trogrs have “no interest” in the refugees and refuse them entry to their country or the shelter to be found in their caves. As one Trogr states so bluntly: “Turn them back where they came from. They don’t belong here.”
However, Peqkya makes arrangements to home the Sema refugees and prepare for their arrival with jobs and places to live. V says: “They will have a purpose and I will ensure they are integrated into Peqkian life.” V understands they are farmers, and so she is determined they can be re-homed successfully in Peqkya and continue to use their agricultural knowledge.
Love is a universal theme in fiction, as it is in life. Love makes us do sweet things, brave things, stupid things. It’s a driving force and something most of us can’t exist without – we live to give love and receive it. And it touches us every single day.
Violya has love aplenty, including:
Forbidden love – V is desperately in love with someone she shouldn’t be – her soulmatch, as they call romantic partners in Peqkya – who she says in Melokai is “long gone” but who reappears in Violya. However, they must continue to keep their forbidden love under wraps until the right time. V is now the Melokai, and her first priority is her people.
Family love – Families can be messy, but they can also be supportive and loving. There are two examples that stand out to me of family love at different ends of the scale. The wolf Darrio’s love for his triplets is wholesome, pure and without any judgement or ulterior motive. Even after Warrio’s shocking behaviour, Darrio forgives him and “thanked Great Mother Wolf for the blessing that was his pups.”
On the other end of the spectrum is the formidable concubine Jakira’s love for her two sons Ammad and Selmi. The desert country of Drome is fixated with power and Jakira, although she desperately loves her “flesh of my flesh” boys, only wants one thing for them. To be the most powerful men they can be.
She has her sights set on Ammad, the eldest, becoming the ruler of Drome. And has equally grand plans for Selmi. But when he tells her he is not interested in power; she simply cannot comprehend it and dismisses him: “He is still young and this is merely a phase. Whatever wiseman has fed him this nonsense will be minus his head by the morning.”
Friendship – Friendship is a joy. Spending time with friends who ‘get’ you and who you can be authentic with is refreshing and energising. There are many moments of friendship in Violya, and the blossoming of the friendship between the young wolf Sarry and the novice warrior Monya is one that warms my heart.
Have you ever had a moment where you and your friend share a joke and just can’t stop laughing about it? No matter how hard you try to stop, even when your laughing is entirely inappropriate, you just can’t. And the only way to get over your giggles is to look away because if you so much as glimpse the other person’s eye it sets you both off again.
Sarry and Monya have a moment just like that when they’re meant to be training with V. V knows she should discipline them, but doesn’t. She’s pleased to see they’re becoming close friends and allows the pair to “laugh themselves dry”.
The Ice of Inaly Lake Shrinking
Another huge issue is climate change, and one that frightens and saddens me. It’s an issue that I think about constantly, changing my habits, diet and consumption to be more environmentally conscious.
This theme is touched upon in the first book, Melokai, as well as in Violya. It’s hinted at in the background, the characters too preoccupied with what is happening right now to heed any warnings about long-term damage.
One of the first mentions of the climate is in Melokai, when Ramya and her councillors are discussing the prophecy and considering why the Trogrs might possibly cause trouble.
Ramya requests her Head Scholar to investigate one theory that could be linked to the climate: “Chaz, you mentioned that each year the soil here in Peqkya is warmer than the year before and there is less winter ice cover on Inaly Lake. Can you investigate if this change has triggered a shift to the Troglo cave environment that is forcing them out into the open.”
The country of Fertilian has also noticed it. In the south are great salt flats, but now, as one Lord reports: “Our spies tell us that far in the east the salt is starting to dry out to a useless wasteland, which is slowly advancing.” However, as this is in the area held by the enemy, the lord concludes, “Nothing to worry about our end.”
A changing climate is also being felt in the desert country of Drome. As Lord Chattergoon notes, “every year there is less and less rain in the desert.” And in Violya, the warriors Daya and Laurya also comment on the lack of rain.
There are signs that something isn’t right… but not one country has yet to take action.
The Courage and Perseverance of Toby
Many of the characters in Violya have grit. They persevere in the face of odds stacked against them, they show great courage and endurance and never give up.
Most people have dreams and goals that they’re striving for and can recognise in themselves courage and perseverance. I love reading stories where nothing comes easily to a character and they have to really work for it. Why? Because if you’ve ever tried to write a novel then you’ll know it’s tough! It takes a long time, and involves a lot of effort. You have to be persistent, consistent and gritty to keep going.
One character that shows tremendous grit is Prince Toby Cleland of Fertilian. Toby is captured during the civil war, and tortured terribly by his captors. But he doesn’t give up. He endures. He watches and learns. He bides his time and suffers until the moment is right for courageous action – with no concern for if he might fail, he knows what he needs to do, and no matter what, does it.
The Blinded-By-Power Wakrime Rulers
It’s a sad fact that there are still many countries today that are governed by power-hungry, greedy, egocentric and aggressive individuals and groups. They have little care for the people they oversee, using them for their own gain and even sanctioning attacks on their own civilians.
The rulers of the nation of Drome completely sum up this disregard for their citizens. The ruling Wakrime family is blinded by power. The Wakrimes were the first clan to discover the crater in the desert with a plentiful water source, and this cemented their control over all the other clans – a hierarchy that is brutally enforced.
While Parchaders starve and go thirsty, crops grown within the Wakrime palace walls go to waste. Cloth that could clothe the poorest and protect them from the sun is draped across the walkways in the villas of the wealthy to shade them. The religion is corrupt, used for gain and to keep the masses in their place.
There is a massive gap between rich and poor which is only getting wider. Slaves are still kept and are bought and sold for less than a camel. And the ruler sends the lowly commoners off to war without so much as a second thought.
Although there is one who seeks change, most do not. As Jakira states: “the way of things is the way of things... Do you want to lose your wealth and live on the streets instead of in this villa? Give up your racing camels so that slaves can have them? You speak of all being equal but that has never worked, nor will it. There are the strong, there are the weak. We are the strong, and I intend to keep us that way.”
The Matriarchal Society of Peqkya
Ahhhh, patriarchy. Although there are great strides being made in terms of gender equality, our society is still dominated by men. For a few examples, see: the gender pay gap, honour killings, the gender data gap, sexism in the workplace, and the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in everyday life. I believe that society should be equal, but we’ve got a little way to go.
Although not one country in the world is matriarchal, there are a few matriarchal societies left. Peqkya isn’t modelled on these. It’s an extreme matriarchal society inspired by some of the worse bits of patriarchal society. It isn’t a utopia. Instead the women treat the men in the same way as the men used to treat the women before the women took control.
Men are second-class citizens with no say. They’re punished brutally if they don’t do as they’re told. They don’t have any input in which sexual partners they have. Their prime purpose is reproduction, pleasuring the women and doing all the jobs the women don’t want to do.
However, there is light and a slow move towards equality as the men are gradually being treated better. In book one, Melokai Ramya allowed males to attend the House of Knowledge (a great library and research centre) for them to learn, and softens rules in their favour.
In the second book, V updates a thousand-year-old mandate to allow all boys to survive into manhood and join the army, telling them: “Progression and success are based on merit, so prove yourselves to me, to Head Warrior Lizya, to your captains. We’ll be watching.”
V’s Desperate Grief
Losing a loved one is desperately sad. But it is something we all have to go through. Grief is hard to process, and a feeling that never truly goes away. My Grandma passed away twenty years ago and I still tear up if I think about how much I miss her.
V is desperately sad, she’s grieving the loss of her best friend, her mentor and her ruler. But she pushes on. She has to live and do her best in a world where these cherished people no longer exist.
I attempt to convey this sense of loss in a scene from Violya:
V understood his desperate sadness; felt the same deep within, an eternal ache for lost loved ones. She had a hollow space in her chest where her friend Emmya’s death echoed.
V’s breath hitched in her chest. “My best friend Emmya died, Gwrlain. My mentor, Ramya’s Head Warrior, Gogo, has died. I’ve also lost my Melokai. I miss them. But I carry them here,” she tapped her heart, “and here,” she tapped her forehead. “Grief will consume us if we let it. For our loved ones we must go on. You must go on, for Ramya.”
The World as We See It
As I’m sure with any author, artist or creative, their art is a comment on the world as they see it. And everyone sees it in their own unique way. My fantasy stories are just that, stories. They are written to entertain and as a form of escapism, but also I hope they make readers think about things from a slightly different perspective and see the connections to real life.
>>VIOLYA, the second novel in my grimdark epic fantasy trilogy In the Heart of the Mountains, is out now. Available from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Read more about my books here.<<
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