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I received one very kind email about Tell the Wind and Fire recently in which the email writer was like ‘Well, I can’t wait to see how you fix things in the sequel’ and when I said ‘There isn’t, um, going to be a sequel’ she responded with ‘What have you done!’
It has come time to talk about what I have done, under a cut because it contains spoilers for Tell the Wind and Fire, A Tale of Two Cities, the Lynburn Legacy, the Hunger Games, spoilers for your life.
Thank you so much for being a teary, snotty mess! Also I am sorry. This is the ETERNAL CONUNDRUM. I am so grateful you are sad about the people I made up in my head TO TORMENT YOU.
First off, I cannot take all the blame for this. Tell the Wind and Fire is a retelling of A Tale of Two Cities, and in A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton, the model for Carwyn, dies. Charles Dickens did it first.
Of course, Tell the Wind and Fire is a very different book, with magic and girls with swords and New York City and cupcakes. I am the writer of that book, not Charles Dickens, and I could have saved Carwyn.
‘This is the story of who I was able to save’ Lucie says at the start of the book. I faked you guys out with that one, and I am not sorry. Writers are tricksters! I wanted it to seem like a binary choice. Is it going to be Ethan or Carwyn who she saves?
Lucie’s whole life is defined by the fact she saved her father, by creating what she feels was a false image of herself to gain public sympathy. Lucie has a saviour complex, for sure. But Lucie has to learn that projecting a false image isn’t what she wants to do in the end: she has to try and save someone by presenting the truth about herself. And her choice is less simple and binary than she thinks, because life is less simple and binary than you think. Lucie really tries to save Ethan, and really tries to save Carwyn, but she ends up saving someone else entirely. (More on that later.)
The false binary choice was underlined by the Fake Love Triangle I did. Lucie and Ethan open and end the book in a long-term well-established relationship, and Carwyn is an exciting new guy. Carwyn is certainly romantically interested in Lucie, and it would be a Real Love Triangle if she was ever swayed by him. However, she is not romantically interested in him. She likes Ethan and chose Ethan and continually chooses Ethan. Ethan’s romantic presentation is to her taste and Carwyn’s is not, as I discuss here:
And it remains totally interesting for me to see the split between readers going ‘I feel that, Lucie girl’ and ‘I personally would find a plate from the Carwyn buffet MOST PIQUANT.’ I wonder if I will ever do a Real Love Triangle, which as I understand it involves Two People being Super Into A Third Person and The Third Must Choose Between Them, But There Are Complications Like Maybe One Is King of All England And The Other His Best Knight #kingarthurproblems. Instead I do stuff like ‘You Thought You Were In A Love Triangle, But That Was All Part of My Master Plan (Demon’s Lexicon)’ and ‘I Made My Choice In Book 1, Sorry Telepathic Links Keep Messing With You (Lynburn Legacy).’ Obviously, I am super into *triangulation.* I would like to do a Real Love Triangle, one of these days! But Tell the Wind and Fire was not that day.
Yet there is the appearance of the love triangle: Lucie *is* drawn to Carwyn, not only because he is physically identical to her boyfriend, not only because he saved her boyfriend against his supposedly evil nature and thus interested her and put her in his debt. She says as much: Carwyn is from the Dark city and reminds her of herself, a stranger amidst brightness and luxury, someone she perceives as knowing the same grim truths she does. But most importantly, Carwyn believes he is a bad person, like one who died young, all potential for the future belonging to good people like Ethan. And secretly, Lucie believes that about herself. She cannot forgive herself for the lies she’s told, for renouncing her mother, for the false face she wears.
One of my lovely readers who has willingly come to several of my events and thus is a hero, Alysa, asked me at one event about my interest in shadow selves, which was a Super Interesting Question. (Love my readers, love events, love smart questions.) I have a deep interest in shadow selves. My last series (Lynburn Legacy) featured identical twins and also strangely similar cousin/brothers. I am not a Subtle Person.
Carwyn is Ethan’s double created by magic. They are called doppelgangers, and a doppelganger is a German myth about a wicked spirit who takes your form, to become a harbinger of your death. Obviously they are deeply linked and deeply curious about each other. Carwyn’s creation saved Ethan, but he didn’t have a choice about that. When he does have a choice–he can decide to save Ethan again, or not. He does choose to save Ethan, twice, both times at cost to himself. And Ethan has to carry that–has to try to be the good one, to change the world in a positive way, because how else do you pay for being the one who gets to live the good life, gets to have the mother, gets to live? Carwyn believes he is Ethan’s shadow self.
It is also another trick. I wrote Tell the Wind and Fire knowing that Carwyn was going to seem to be Ethan’s shadow self. But Carwyn is really Lucie’s shadow self. She is kind to him because she wants someone to be kind to her, to free her. She takes off his collar, takes away his hood to show his face, and later she shows the world who she really is.
But Carwyn is not just Lucie’s shadow self, or Ethan’s shadow self. He has to be a character in his own right.
You very kindly mentioned Rusty in your ask, dear reader, and I have a link below to the Big Essay About Rusty’s Death. (Similar to this Big Essay About Carwyn’s Death I am writing for you! And I hope it helps.) Carwyn is not That Girl Who Dies in the same way Rusty is: he’s not super supportive of the women in his life (he doesn’t really have anyone in his life), he doesn’t have a heart of gold. Rusty knew that he was a good person. Rusty’s death is not about him. Carwyn’s death, while a sacrifice (for Ethan, for Marie, and tangentially for Lucie) and a good thing to do, does something for him, too. Carwyn believes throughout the book that he is a basically corrupt creature, essentially unworthy, rotten to the core. He does horrible things because of that belief, because why not torment people if you are damned? And then he gets to be the person who does this, gets to be the person who wants to do this: indisputably a hero, something he never thought he could be.
There are similarities to Rusty’s death though: both Rusty and Carwyn (eventually, in Carwyn’s case) prioritise women, children and people of colour before themselves. Rusty loves his sister and her best friend’s family. Carwyn loves Lucie, and he knows that saving Marie is the morally right thing to do, and to his own surprise he wants to do it. I’m not saying that as a writer my manifesto is always going to be ‘run through the streets slaughtering dudes!’ but fiction has a loooooot of women and children and people of colour dying to inspire white dudes, and so me playing turnabout twice seems like fair play. ;)
I am the writer and I could have saved him. In fact, I did set the scene for a rescue, and I did rescue somebody who dies in A Tale of Two Cities: there is a girl who Sydney Carton shares a tumbril with on his way to be executed, who holds hands with him, recognises he is not who he is pretending to be, and dies with him. She became Marie, who shares a death limo with Carwyn. I gave Marie a name, and connections to the other characters (she is the daughter of Penelope and Jarvis, who are Lucie’s caretakers) and a PoV, the only PoV we get besides Lucie’s. And I saved her. She’s the one Lucie could save.
I was thinking of the Hunger Games a lot when I wrote Tell the Wind and Fire, because books exist in conversation with each other, and The Hunger Games is the most-read YA novel about a heroine whose media construction sparks a revolution. Katniss is very much forced into a role that goes against her own inclination to be blunt and straightforward. Girls often are pushed into accepting images for themselves: taught how to present themselves to the media, taught a mode of behaviour that will make them acceptable to the world. Girls are hardly ever even shown a female face without makeup on TV, and then told being fake is very wrong. I wanted to write a book in which the heroine is complicit in the construction of her own false image, and complicit in a terrible system: to have the heroine believe herself to be a liar and a fake, even if she had good reason, and see if readers could forgive her for being a liar and a fake.
The Hunger Games also has an important turning point: Rue’s death. Katniss would absolutely have saved Rue if she could, I’m not playing My Heroine Is More Worthy Than Thine, but I was interested in asking the question ‘what happens to the revolution if the one saved is this one, instead of a boy, instead of a romantic interest,’ what if this is the moment of kindness and grace, the outcome of the right choice: the young black girl lives. Lucie and Carwyn both choose Marie to live, instead of him. She is the one who goes on.
I did not want Lucie to be a white saviour: she’s saving someone personally important to her, as her father was. And Lucie was saved by Marie’s parents: Lucie and her father live on their charity. Moreover, I’m white and I’m not American: I absolutely know some stories are not mine to tell. But it seemed disingenuous to ignore the context of this world.
Mine is a fantasy novel with a fantasy revolution, and a lot of it is based on the French Revolution of 1789, a past so far back it’s like another world. My story is set in a world that will never be. And fantastical analogies of oppression can never be a perfect fit (we talk about rage when we talk about werewolves, but we also talk about, you know, werewolves). Doppelgangers are not real, but people who believe they are worth less than others/others are worth less than they are… they’re real. People falsely determine worth based on race, class, gender, mental health. Lucie is not diagnosed for many reasons, including Lives In Magic Hell World, but she displays pretty classic symptoms of anxiety that I suffer from myself: sleeplessness due to nameless dread, obsessive worrying about your presentation, constructing traps for yourself to walk into. Carwyn has a relentlessly poor opinion of himself and lack of hope for the future which might indicate depression. Carwyn is, however, and this is an important distinction, not dying because he thinks he is worthless and does not deserve to live. He dies to save Ethan, to spare Lucie from losing another person she loves, and in the last choice to save Marie. He dies in the same way Lucie’s mother, who turns out to have died saving Carwyn’s life, dies: endangering herself deliberately, not because she did not value her own life but because she valued the lives of others. Their deaths are tragic, because losing one human life is losing a whole world, but they are also beautiful–they die saving other lives, rescuing other worlds.
I did not want to lose sight of the world while telling my story. This world is real. We are living in it, both me the person writing the story and my readers reading it. The choices I make when storytelling must affect and acknowledge the world, and I do not want to pretend otherwise.
Lucie can’t fix the revolution, and if she could, she doesn’t know if she should. Her aunt and the sans-merci are doing terrible things, but Ethan’s uncle was doing terrible things to them first, and their cruelty is born of pain inflicted whereas his cruelty was born of privilege that meant he thought inflicting pain was his right. The world is too big, and too full of cruelty, for any of us to solve it alone.
But she can make a choice to rescue the victims, those placed in the line of fire against their will, the children. Rescue who she can. Be kind.
Lucie chooses to be kind. Carwyn chooses to be kind. They both choose to be true to themselves and they find out that that person is a better person than they knew. In the end, you have to put the hood that obscures your face down. You have to stop being the false image. You have to hope for kindness for your shivering flawed soul, and you have to be kind.
Then you have a soul, no matter what anybody says, no matter what you always feared. Carwyn and Lucie both save themselves: they save the self they always wanted to be.