Hey Hi Howdy!
And welcome to week 7 of The Seventh Valkyrie read along and director’s commentary, accompanying the launch of A Slanted Reflection. We’re getting close to the end now, and I’m super thrilled! Hope you’ve been digging the series, hope you’ve been digging the commentaries.
For this week, we’re looking at Chapter 18, Chapter 19, and Chapter 20. Next week is the last round of these!
As always read or listen to the chapters first! I’ll be giving you the inside look behind the scenes of A Slanted Reflection, which comes with spoilers.
You can watch the video version of this blog above, or if you’re more of an audio listener you can check out our podcast. In both versions, I go into quite a bit more detail (and you get to hear my lovely voice!).
Chapter 18 — Those of the Wolves
Wolves Gonna Wolf (And Another Round of Iterations)
Dogs gonna dog. People gonna people. And when the party gets late, and Trisden’s feelin’ it with Eva, of course he’s gonna pop in for some good times. After all, wolves gonna wolf. This chapter was another one that went through about a dozen iterations through its many versions (the wolves are another piece that has probably existed in some form for five years), but for some reason Trisden kicking Cyrus out was always involved. Who knows what that says about me.
At one point, Pallen was gonna come back looking for a fight. At another, some random people were gonna see Cyrus and react pretty harshly to the intruder, but none of that really made sense. For a group of people that can be this organized, it wouldn’t make sense for them to bring a tasty, foreign object into the heart of their den without making explicitly clear that it was off limits to mess with.
So you get a little bit of the questioning as he comes in, and a bit of investigation by the wolves and the guys coming for a round of smoke and drink, but not quite the conflict that had been in earlier versions. And that actually made more sense to me.
Perceptions of the World
Instead, you get this moment for Cyrus to explore the world of magic and his growing perception and sixth sense, and we get to see a little bit more about that world through him.
With the magic, the Gifts, I wanted to ensure that the way Extranaturals viewed and experienced the world was fundamentally different than the way that more standard humans do. They see the world as paints on a canvas, as musics and rhythms and arts, and structures and energies, in a way that’s so entirely different from how we rely on the senses in a beautiful way.
I also wanted to try to ground ‘magic sense’ into reality a bit more. I’m definitely not the first person to have the idea that magical peoples have enhanced senses, but I feel like often they’re just normal senses, but super powerful, or hard to relate to. I tried to find a middle ground here for a few reasons.
First, I love to describe the way the world exists in the way the Extranaturals do. An old friend of mine once said that “you need to find some way to be at least a little happy where you are, or you’ll never be happy anywhere.” That moment stuck with me, and I think that you can find beauty and purpose and art and wonder everywhere you go if you look hard enough. As a writer, it’s a fun exercise to see the world through Cyrus’s eyes, and distill what you see and hear and feel into something more meaningful.
Second, through this chapter (and some of Cyrus’s) we start to see those differences between Edarans and Extranaturals more clearly. That canvas is what the Extranaturals see, that’s what they live, and you can see how that has caused not just an ideological and cultural divide, but also a fundamental interpersonal divide. It’s not another world, just a very, very different way of seeing this one.
And the Raw Power of the Wild
On the flipside of those incredible senses, when faced with an ancient power, like the force of a hurricane, and the force that arrives at the Moon Dogs den, someone so attuned would be blown away like a paper cup in a storm. And Cyrus is. He’s crushed, and driven nearly to the point of mental breakdown.
Another thing I wanted to tackle in this series was another pet peeve of mine. Scales of power in fantasy worlds can be so flimsy. One of the things I wanted to keep in this series was the scale of power differences. I mean in real life, there are things so far beyond a single human’s comprehension that they’re capable of affecting you on a scale you can’t control. Natural disasters. War. Epidemics. Gravity. The Tides.
I really wanted to ratchet up the scale a little bit, while also keeping things grounded. Because the other problem is that you have these massive forces, and they lose their impact because we become disconnected from how much they affect the normal person.
Grounded epic fantasy. How’s that for a genre 😉
Chapter 19 — Snarling Strays
Sex is a Serious Business
Brief story time, but I was visiting Amsterdam once and took a trip through the red-light district museum, and it was absolutely fascinating how much of, well, just a job the sex workers had. Now, obviously their form of service industry was quite different from other service industry jobs due to the intimate, hands on nature of it, but everywhere throughout the industry there were steps put into place to make the process as organized and safe as possible.
And in a place like the Old City, where people are very, very open about sex, drugs, alcohol, etc., it would just make sense that they would regulate sex like any other industry, trying to keep their girls happy, safe, and fulfilled.
Oh, funny story. My mom hates, hates reading about these sections. I mean, I should have expected it, especially since she listens to the audiobook. I just didn’t expect that the first “think of the children!” complaint I’d get would be from my own, New Orleans-raised, not-entirely-reformed party girl of a mom.
As a side note, love you mom more than anything! Bet you didn’t think you’d make the Director’s Commentary.
More Character Collisions and Dramatic Tensions
We also get to see two new narrators in this chapter, and I liked how we got to play with the elements of dramatic irony. As readers, we know that Val has infiltrated this home, or is seeking to. We also know that Rat is tied to the Machine King.
So we start to see the pieces falling together. There’s a plan to strike at the girls (and who knows how many others around the city?), that comes to a head when Yoven busts in to warn them. But then, we see the glass shatter, and we know that Val is making his play.
Another little example of how playing through different people’s eyes can be a fun little literary trick when used on occasion. We get to see inside these people’s minds, and then we also get the glory of Val’s arrival from someone who truly appreciates the fear of the Iron Wolf.
The Figure of Legend
Val has names from each of the cultures, and through each of their legends we add to our own understanding of the Iron Wolf. To the Sestrans, he is Ukira, the Mist Walker, and a living shadow that has come to life.
And when he comes to life, smashing Rat’s head against the wall and single handedly tossing him back into the room, Ressa needs absolutely no convincing to escape.
When the Fight is Fair
I also liked how in this chapter we got to remember exactly why Val is such a figure of legend. He’s been beaten, and exhausted, and dealt with some fierce challenges along the way. With one arm, he escaped from the town and nearly beat down Rat and a team of trained and dangerous Exes. And now, with both arms, the element of surprise, and against men who are admittedly lower on the totem pole, he faces no real challenge.
Remember about comparative power levels? There’s a trick in wrestling where you make your hero overcome the odds by giving them an injury to fight through, something to make it more of a fight and give the bad guys a chance. And that’s satisfying. But the best payoff is when the injured hero returns at full strength.
And here’s the thing. Val’s not even at his peak yet. Remember Jordan his first half-season back? Yeah, imagine 7 seasons off.
Chapter 20 — Aerithim
From the Edge of Insanity
Following up about power, another way I like to show effects of a power is over time. Even after Cyrus is healed, rested, and carried into Rolman’s office, it still takes him a great deal of Rolman’s healing to set him even close to straight again.
And then, of course, he’s sent up to face Aerithim.
My Favorite Character to Voice So Far
Another plug for the audiobook here. I really liked voicing the old southern voices of the wolves, but Aerithim himself is one of my favorites. Something about his voice that captured the ancient, effortless power of him, along with the grounded nature, his effortless class, and yet still the folksy approachability of him was just a level of layers that I was super surprised to discover when I voiced him.
I always say discover because the process of finding a voice starts with a clear vision in my head, and then evolves into the voice that satisfies them. Aerithim’s voice really, really came out great.
However, it absolutely blasted out my voice. Had to take about a day and a half of voice rest after this chapter before I could really bring home the last round of chapters.
As the Curtain Pulls Back, and the Collision of Scale
Another fun thing to pay off this chapter was the collisions of scale. We’ve seen bits and pieces of Cyrus’s story throughout the past two Volumes, always with the Valgardians talked about as this form of myth, and now we get to see, through someone who was around to see a Valgardian, a little stronger connection to the mystery that Cyrus has been chasing.
I’m such a goon for when a local, personal scale turns and collides with an expansive, rich history, and getting to connect those two dots through Aerithim was very satisfying. We’ve got a slight sense for the large scale, centuries-old mystery that Cyrus has to uncover now, and with each step further into the future, we’ll gain a clearer picture of the past.
A Disappointing Valgardian, and A New Direction
Speaking of stepping further into the future, we also get a new direction for Cyrus in this chapter. He’s working his way up now from sheer survival and confusion back onto the path in pursuit of Valgardia. Now sure, he’s still a long, long way from actually Valgardia, but he’s got a direction now, and the confirmation that somehow, some way, the Valgardians did exist.
So he’s not crazy, at least in that regard, but there’s a long road for him to walk ahead.
See You Next Week!
However, when it comes to this Volume, our journey is actually coming to a close! You can leave a comment here and I’ll make sure to answer it next week! In the meantime, make sure that you’ve listened to or read:
Chapter 21 — The Curtain Dark
Chapter 22 — The Full Moon’s Guard
Epilogue — Dolls and Puppets
In the meantime, stay safe, and in the words of Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other.
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