As the protagonist around whom the ensemble revolves, Corayne was central to the story, but Aveyard always envisioned her as an ensemble piece. Aveyard also says she wanted Corayne to be different from the protagonists of the stories she loved when she was young. “I went in Kingdom breaker knowing absolutely that my main character and leader would be this teenage girl, the bastard daughter of a hero who wants no part of him, ”she said in our email interview. “So Corayne’s parameters were in my head from the start, but I also knew absolutely that she would be part of an ensemble team of deadly misfits. Obviously, Corayne is the central and emotional core.
Of course, the realm of fantasy has changed a lot since The Lord of the Rings was released in 1954, or even since its last pop culture revival sparked by the early villains film trilogy. NK Jemisin, Kameron Hurley, AK Larkwood, and many others have set out to do the same – portray people like them in fantasy fiction – and have succeeded. In the introduction to Kingdom breaker, Aveyard develops this subject a bit by saying: “I had trouble finding my way around their pages and their images. What if someone like me, a straight white girl, struggles, how must other people feel? I remember turning to fan fiction to feed the hunger more, to myself.”
And in that classic fanfiction way, Kingdom breaker does not just take the principles of its source material as gospel. “I also wanted to run a bit in the other direction,” says Aveyard. “The stock markets are, for the most part, all morally oriented in the same direction. Only Boromir really dives into all emotional complexity and failure, and we lose him very early on. I wanted people who were really flawed and real, who make mistakes or lead morally gray lives, who don’t think they’re heroes or don’t want to be heroes, but have to be heroes anyway. As for the villain, I like to think of him as an evil Aragorn, which was a joy to write.
In Kingdom breaker, this complexity means heroes who have failed before, an assassin who wonders if the quest is worth fighting for more than money, and more. “I did my best to make each character stand alone as a person,” says Aveyard, “and therefore acting like a person in their situation, with their particular background, would. I have stayed as true to their established characters as possible, which creates a lot of great conflict between very different people oriented towards the same goal. And I didn’t want to disinfect or force development. It’s a very organic process, growing these people together and making them feel real.
Different chapters have different point of view characters, which allows the reader to have knowledge that not all characters share. “The challenge in any story with multiple perspectives is making sure that each voice sounds different and distinct,” says Aveyard. “Fortunately, these characters have such different personalities, it wasn’t as difficult as I expected. What helped me the most was internalizing these characters and their internal compasses as much as possible, so I didn’t need to be so aware of their characters while writing their POVs. It’s easier to sink when you don’t have to constantly think NOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING HERE, because you’ve absorbed them and their thinking. You already know how they would react.
The finale, when all of the work she put into these characters ends up in an ensemble battle, was one of the funniest parts of writing a great band, Aveyard says. “I had a blast with the plays, especially the climax in an oasis village. It seemed like a real reward for all the set up and development. I can let all these people come out of their cages and really let them fight. Not to mention, there is a point where Corayne essentially passes herself between all the warriors, like soccer, to drive her safely to her destination. It was a pleasure for me to visualize the whole sequence and put it on paper.