Written by Peter Orullian
I learned the phrase “Violating Your Expectations” in college, when studying Shakespeare, and it’s stuck with me ever since. It’s the idea of taking a reader someplace they’re not anticipating. With my series, The Vault of Heaven, that was always my plan: To begin in a warm place of familiarity and comfort, and then apply heat enough to boil you. Kind of like that thing where the crab is placed in a pot of room temperature water. It sits, content. And before it knows what’s happening, the water is boiling, cooking the crab.
I started down that path with my first book, The Unremembered. Now, in my second book, Trial of Intentions, I turn up the heat. And there are a number of things in the book that I think equate to cranking the dial on the stove.
First might be the music. In book one, it’s clear there’s a music magic system. But it’s not understood or used much. In Trial of Intentions, that changes. In spades. Not only does a character use that ability with savage intent and results, but she also goes to the one place where she can study it. Take it further. These were some of my favorite scenes to write, as I found in them a dark beauty.
And, in keeping with the “violate your expectations” theme, there’s this whole science thing that begins to amp up in book two. This is where readers who think they have one of my main characters pegged as a farm boy are in for some violation. I’m a bit of an amateur astronomer. And I use it as a leap point for creating an entire city dedicated to science and populated with colleges of astronomy, physics, mathematics, philosophy, and cosmology. Like the music scenes, these were a blast to write, and also where the lion’s share of my research time was spent.
Of course, what’s an epic fantasy without war, right? And I give you some. In fact, there’s an entire culture dedicated to what it calls “gearworks”—the building of siege engines and the like. But then, I had this counter notion: What if one of the main characters decides that it would be best to avert war? While some people are building alliances and escalating to war on a grand scale, others are employing every means possible to stop the war before it begins. I found the juxtaposition of these opposing motivations a fun challenge to write.
I’ve also spent quite a bit of time on my magic systems. So far, there are five. But most of that time was devoted to creating what I call “governing dynamics.” Each magic system ladders up to a set of unifying principles. It made sense to me that this world would have something akin to mechanical laws for magic, laws that different cultures would tap into in different ways. The various cultures might not even call those laws by the same name. But readers will see that all these different magic systems tie into something I call Resonance. I think it gives the world a kind of coherence.
Finally, it’s always been the case that the world of my series is a harsh place. So much so that there are those who find refuge in self-slaughter. This is only lightly touched upon in The Unremembered. But in Trial of Intentions, suicide steps into the glare of the spotlight. It lays near the center of motivation for at least one of my characters, who’s seen it up close and too often.
Like I said, this was always part of the story. But when I finished writing book two, I realized the resonance of it was stronger than I’d planned. Or maybe that’s just my read of it, because I had a friend recently make that choice. The book doesn’t linger overlong on the topic, but I hope it gives some emotional context for a few of the characters and their relationships.
In the end, however, some carnage is inevitable. Battles happen. Some involve skills of science. Some involve swords. And some, music magic.
All of which is to say, I think Trial of Intentions turns the gas up to get the pot boiling. Cook you good.
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