It is a heady pleasure, creating worlds in one’s mind, and weaving the one depicted in The Impostor Queen was no exception. For my first fantasy novel, I wanted to create something immersive and intricate, a culture that had sprung up around powerful magic. In the book, Elli is the heir to the throne, the “chosen one” who will inherit the Valtia’s powerful ice and fire magic when she dies, and who will use it to protect her people. Though there are other magic wielders in this world, some with ice, some with fire, some with a bit of both, the Valtia’s magic is special. It is infinite, limited only by the human vessel that contains it at any given time, and it is perfectly balanced between the two extremes.
Elli was chosen as a child to be the future vessel for this magic based on a mark she bears on her skin, which appeared at the moment of the previous Valtia’s death. She knows she’s “the one” and has never questioned it. She defines herself by her role, a princess in standing in the wings, an empty vessel waiting to be filled. No one except her handmaiden, Mim, thinks of her as a person with desires and needs of her own.
Except… Elli’s not the chosen one. She’s something (almost) no one expected.
As I was developing Elli’s character—a girl who is supposed to have all this potential for power, who is supposed to be the embodiment of balance—I wanted that to pervade her being, from her personality to her sexuality. It didn’t make any sense to me for her to fall on one end of the spectrum or the other. Elli is open, and receptive, and she is attracted to certain people, males and females. This includes Mim, the young woman who has been at her side since she was chosen as the heir. It’s a forbidden attraction, not because they’re both girls, but because Elli isn’t supposed to be in love with anyone—she’s meant only to love her people. Later, Elli also has a romantic attraction to a male character, and though she marvels that she feels this way about someone so different from her handmaiden, it affirms her love for Mim instead of diminishing it.
In the companion novel, The Cursed Queen, the protagonist, Ansa, represents Elli’s opposite number, with one exception—she is also bisexual. Her primary romantic pairing is with a female character, though she has a romantic past with one of the male characters. Again, I felt this aspect of her character was a natural extension of the magical system I’d created and Ansa’s role in it. Ansa and Elli are in some ways a mirror for each other, and to me it made a lot of sense for them to share this quality, as much sense as it made for them to share almost nothing else.
I also placed Ansa in a society that is starkly different from the Kupari of The Impostor Queen. The Krigere society is a warrior culture, but one entirely based on individual preference and inclination. There are two equally valued roles: the warriors and the andeners, who are companions, skilled craftsmen/women, and supporters of the fighters. Each Krigere decides what role to take and which person to pair with romantically, with no restrictions based on gender or sexuality.
One thing that I really enjoyed in writing this world is that I had the power to fashion rules and society as I wanted. Yes, there are still elements of oppression, and in The Impostor Queen in particular, some of it is based on gender. But only a few of the characters consider it acceptable, while others are calling it out. When it came to romantic attraction, I didn’t want to apply a narrow set of values in terms of how characters experienced or judged it. It simply wasn’t a part of the story I wanted to tell.
So I didn’t. And it felt awesome. I think readers of any age often need a break from things too frequently accepted as “reality” and “the way things are,” that are actually totally upside-down when you pull them out of context and take a close look. It’s easy to automatically apply “reality” to fantasy… but such a pleasure not to. I hope my readers agree.
Sarah Fine is the author of Of Metal and Wishes, Of Dreams and Rust, The Impostor Queen, The Cursed Queen, and The Guards of the Shadowlands series. She was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast. When she’s not writing, she’s working as a child psychologist. Visit her at SarahFineBooks.com.