There are endless choices to make when building a fantasy world. Landscape.
Plants. Animals. Weather patterns. Clothes. Government. Religion. Sexuality. The
shape of all these things are in the hands of the author, for the author is the
god of the world they build.
When I built Shiara and the city of Sagen sy Itagami, I wanted a world that
would be extremely harsh in many ways—you do not want to be stuck on
Shiara in the middle of the summer, for example. In a lot of ways, though,
Shiara and Itagami are safer and more equal than the culture we’re used to.
There are three sexes here—men, women, and ebets—and the only gender role that
exists in the clan is procreation. From leadership to service, all roles are
equally split between the sexes because I built a society where only magical
power and skill with a weapon determine your rank. Writing this book allowed me
to erase both the gender binary and the unequal distribution of between the
sexes. It allowed me to change or erase a lot of other things, too.
In Itagami, "normal" has an entirely different set of definitions and
expectations than what we're used to. Marriage—called a sumai bond in the
book—is rare, but when that vow is made it’s soul-deep and unbreakable. Those
who don't have a sumai bond often move between romantic and/or sexual
relationships as their needs change, and the how and why of what happens between
two or more people isn't something anyone else has a right to comment on. Not to
say gossip doesn't happen—it absolutely does—but the judgment and the
interference I've seen happen in life doesn't. Mostly.
Khya, ISLAND OF EXILES’s
narrator, is happily and proudly bisexual. Bisexuality is the norm, but all the
other orientations are fully accepted. There are those who prefer one sex over
the two others, and there are those who prefer no one. While there are still
rules and expectations concerning relationships, none of those rules impinge on
anyone’s sexuality. The restriction is on social caste, not gender.
Just like with orientation, Itagami is very open about the “how” of sex. In
Itagami, monogamy isn't societally expected. Polyamory is perfectly acceptable.
Exhibitionism, voyeurism, kink, and fetishes—none of it is shamed. Khya and
Tessen, for example, are not quite vanilla, a decision I made in part because of
my editor. She mentioned once how important it is to portray YA relationships as
diversely as we do adult. Not all teens are entirely vanilla, she said, but we
give them no mirror.
Once I knew my editor wouldn't give me an "are we sure this is appropriate for
teens" talk, I could explore the characters and what sexuality meant in Itagami
at a deeper level. This matters because desire (or a lack thereof) and the
specific form that feeling takes is a very fraught topic in contemporary
society. Dangerously so. The Shiara and Itagami gave me a chance to erase a lot
of expectations and "rules" we’re used to. For Khya and Tessen, control, power,
trust, and surrender are all key. Each needs something from the other, and a lot
of the buildup between them is admitting those needs and trusting the other to
meet them. I wanted to show it's not only okay to want things outside
of the normal, it's okay to talk about them. It’s important to recognize your
own needs and desires, accept them, and ask for them from someone you trust.
Like all other levels of diversity and representation, relationships are so
important to represent positively and respectfully. Alternative orientations,
dynamics, preferences, kinks, and fetishes are ESPECIALLY important for YA
authors to consider and include. For most people, their teen years is when they
begin to discover arousal and desire. Or their lack thereof. If anything,
portraying relationships outside the center of the bell curve is MORE important
in YA than in adult. Puberty and adolescence and young adulthood are confusing
enough. Why make it harder for anyone when we can provide a map? What I hope is
that Khya and Tessen—and the other pairings in the series—introduce teens to
concepts about relationships they don't often see. Hopefully, all of this will
be commonplace one day, but it's not there yet. Especially in young adult
fiction. When broader representation becomes standard, I think that’s when we’ll
begin to see some true changes in social and cultural perceptions. After all,
nothing creates empathy like seeing inside someone else’s head, and there’s no
easier way to do that than books.
After a lifelong obsession with books, Erica Cameron spent her college years
studying psychology and creative writing, basically getting credit for reading
and learning how to make stories of her own. Now, she’s the author of several
series for young adults. She’s also a reader, asexuality advocate, dance fan,
choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for
romance, Florida resident, and quasi-recluse who loves the beach but hates the
heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvador Dali and Venetian Carnival
masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon décor pieces, and a desire
to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know,
Every breath is a battle.
In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.
On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan
comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all
But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother
his life, Khya's home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is
Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The
council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years
deep, reach around a world she's never seen.
To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust
Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run-a betrayal and a death
Thriller | Fantasy | Young Adult [Entangled Teen,
On Sale: February 14, 2017, Trade Size /
e-Book, ISBN: 9781633755925 / ]
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