I’m thrilled to have Claudie Arseneault on the blog today because I so rarely am able to show all the love I want for this growing body of work. City of Strife is a new series coming out soon so I hope you jump on the hype train with me!
Many authors have overarching themes from book to book. For people who are already your fans, or would like to be, in what ways is your newest, City of Strife, like your other works?
The major thing they have in common is the importance of teamwork—of several people all doing their own small part to fight something. I don’t do The One Hero. Viral Airwaves might have Henry as a lead, but a lot of its message is that you can’t stand aside and let others do the work, that “being a hero” really only means doing your best, no matter how small.
City of Strife has a slightly different approach to this. The trilogy’s overarching storyline starts when Diel Dathirii decides to go against the imperialistic enclave that is slowly invading his city’s politics. A lot of his struggle is in how the rest of the city won’t join him, and how alone, he doesn’t have the power to do this.
All of my work has this “don’t fight alone” and “don’t leave anyone behind” feel, and a lot of it also translates into major non-romantic relationships—friends, family (found or otherwise), mentors, etc.
I adore that message and thrilled to see more of it. The first thing that stands out about the book’s blurb is the character’s age. Does Arathiel being older change how you go about writing him? If so, in what ways?
Having elves in a story creates great opportunities to play with age, memories, and maturity. Arathiel is older, true, but this prolonged survival is artificial—most of the hundred thirty years he spent away from Isandor passed in a flash. This creates a huge amount of dissonance for him between the city he knew when he left, and the one he finds upon returning. People he knew back then are dead now… all except the elves.
So those elves do remember him, but they lived that 130 years fully. Arathiel is a lot more distant in their memory, because their lives changed and evolved since. I had to give a lot of thoughts on how I wanted to treat elven longevity in the context of an otherwise human city. It was a lot of fun.
Many fantasy worlds comment on real life organizations or nations, is there any symbolism hidden in your world building?
No? Maybe it’s just that I wouldn’t call it symbolism. I didn’t put anything in it thinking “this is a stand-in for X” and part of that might be because I first imagined this world some 8-9 years ago, and my political awakening was barely beginning at the time.
On the other hand, the parallels are really easy to draw, and I am very aware of them. There’s no denying Isandor is literally lead by a handful of merchants and that these rich peeps will gladly let the poorer folks rot if they can keep living in luxury, including through laws that maintain their status. Then there’s Avenazar… It’s kind of surreal, how the main villain of this is abusive, racist, vengeful, reckless, and easily-provoked. He’s existed for as long as the universe, and much longer than I knew Trump did, but here we are. I’ve had readers comment he should get more of a backstory to explain why he’s like that, but in all honesty, recent US events make me think the shithole racist empire Myria is constitutes all the backstory Avenazar needs.
Fiction has a way of being a bit too real at times… You’ve mentioned there is an all LGBTQIAP+ cast, and I know an aromantic character is included in that lineup. Could you tell us more about this diverse cast?
I could spend a long time talking about that. Isandor is written with a huge cast and many narrating characters (I approached this as a mosaic of point of views). Here’s the secret rule to it: if a character narrates, they’re queer. It’s not always explicit in the first book, but it will be through the trilogy.
But let’s talk about the aromantic and asexual characters! The cool part is that I technically don’t have enough of one hand to count them. Writing this book was like sprinkling the A everywhere. ^^ The most important ones are:
Nevian is a sex-repulsed biromantic asexual nerd. He’s a teenager who constantly deals with abuse (there are massive tw for abuse in this novel, and most of them are tied to Nevian). He’s also resilient, wary, and he loves to be right, even on technicalities.
Cal is both aromantic and asexual, although his aromanticism is the one briefly discussed. Cal is everybody’s friend, he’s a bit of a gossip monster, and although he neither has attraction or really wants a relationship, he loves seeing other fall in love and get together.
Hasryan is demibiromantic and heterosexual. Most of his relationship with his aromanticism is a big ???? because he also has fairly solid trust issues, and as the story starts he can’t be bothered to figure out where one starts and the other finishes. He definitely treasures his close circle of friends, and as the story progresses, there’s a lot of movement in it that leads to more exploration.
Larryn is grey-Ace and bi, though this stays Word of God in the first novel. A friend once called him the Grey-A Rage Baby, and that’s pretty accurate. He’s the owner of Shelter for the homeless, the bastard son of a Dathirii, and perpetually angry at the amount of injustice around him. Which would be great if he dealt with his anger a tad better.
There are more aro and/or ace babies! They become more important later in the trilogy, though, and this is already longer than it should have been sooo, let’s stop here.
Wow, what a huge collection! In a guest post you mention that the book is friendship-centered could you tell us more about the dynamic, and possibly the tension, between Arathiel’s connections to the Dathirii, and the new friends he meets?
A lot of Arathiel’s storyline in City of Strife revolves around trying to find a new place in the city, and the dissonance caused both by what he remembers of Isandor, and what he now discovers of it (this plays on several level, as most of Arathiel’s senses were numbed by what happened to him when he left, adding another distance).
There are… multiple layers of complexity here. His new friends (Cal, Larryn, Hasryan) live in the Lower City, and upon arriving he stays in a Shelter meant for homeless folks (owned by someone who absolutely cannot deal with rich people, no less). His old friends are nobles who live in pretty tower and spend more time discussing trade deals than scrambling for their food. These are two very different lives, and Arathiel’s not sure he can, should, or want to jump back in the old one. Figuring what home means to him and how to reconcile the different parts of it is a huge aspect of his story.
City of Strife’s official cover has just be revealed, can you tell us about the the style, or even feeling you want it to convey with it.
I wanted the city on it. Isandor is a character in and of itself to me, an universe I’ve been building brick by brick for a long time. I asked my cover artist to convey the eclectic feel of the tower, to go wild with the architecture. The end result is gothic towers, lions spitting water, beautiful glasswork, and a fantastic amount of details. Bonus: this is a concept we can reuse with every cover to give them a unified feel while still being quite different!
City of Strife releases on the 22nd! Which is the day after Hello World, it makes me feel hopeful so that such an aggressively a-spec filled book sits next to mine date wise. Last week had the re-release of The Princess Saves Herself In This One and Island of Exiles and now these two being so close to each other is just- well beautiful really. Make sure you add it to goodreads so you don’t miss Claudie Arseneault’s newest gem.