I had the pleasure recently to interview fantasy author Annie Lima Douglass about her latest novel, The Gladiator and the Guard, the second in her the Krillonian Chronicles series. Here’s what she has to say about it.
Hi Annie, thanks for being with us today! Your new series seems both dark, and intriguing. Could you start by telling us a bit about your current series and the world the books are set in?
The Krillonian Empire rules much of the world. An emperor, who is never named, governs from the capital city, Krillonia, on the continent known as Imperia. Eight separate provinces (originally independent nations before they were conquered) can be found on nearby continents. Each province, plus Imperia, is allowed to elect its own legislature and decide on many of its own laws, but the emperor reserves the right to veto any of them and make changes as he sees fit. This seldom happens, however, and to most people the emperor is merely a vague and distant ceremonial figure.
The prevalence of slavery is probably what would stand out the most to visitors from Earth. There are nearly as many slaves in the city of Jarreon, where both books take place, as free people. Many families own one or more slaves who do their housework and yardwork. Businesses often own a large number of slaves, usually for manual labor, though some are trained for more complex tasks. Those who don’t own their own slaves may “hire in” one belonging to someone else. The accepted rate for an hourly wage is two-thirds the amount that a free person would earn for equivalent labor (the money goes to the slave’s owner, of course).
Here’s the back-cover blurb for The Collar and the Cavvarach :
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire’s most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie’s escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time. With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?
And the blurb for The Gladiator and the Guard :
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?
Tell us about the martial art in these books. What is involved in it? Did you have to do a lot of research for the action scenes?
Annie: The martial art is one I made up, called cavvara shil. It is fought with a cavvarach, a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge. Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades. You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.
Most of the time, blades are unsharpened, and competitors wear specially designed padding to protect them from possible injury. Gladiators, however, fight with sharpened blades and wear no padding. It’s all part of making the arena games as exciting as possible.
Although it is imaginary, creating cavvara shil (and the necessary training and practice for it, as well as rules of the tournaments) took a LOT of research. This was one of the most challenging aspects of writing these books for me. I am not a martial artist myself, so it was all the more difficult to make sure this martial art was feasible and would make sense to readers who practice “real” martial arts. I spent hours researching online and in books, as well as talking to athletes I know, and I’ve been told that the end result in the books is believable and realistic. Whew!
How is slavery in your fictional work like and unlike slavery as we’ve read about it in history books or seen in films?
Annie: It’s pretty similar in many ways, except that it takes place in what could almost be described as our world in the modern day. Slaves in The Collar and the Cavvarach must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone. From each collar hangs a tag inscribed with the slave’s name, their owner’s name, and a tiny copy of their owner’s signature. On the back of the tag is their owner’s phone number and a bar code that can be scanned to access additional information. Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).
Another difference is that slavery is not based on race. Anyone from any race can be enslaved as punishment for certain crimes, if they are captured as prisoners of war, etc. Similar to slavery in our world’s history, slave owners can legally treat their slaves however they like – with a few exceptions, however. Recent legislation requires owners to give their slaves one day off a week, and slaves under the age of 18 cannot be required to work more than eleven hours a day.
In addition, owners have the option of enrolling their slaves in free, public “slave school”, which meets only in the mornings and involves reading, writing, and arithmetic. This is considered all that most slaves need to know for their daily tasks, though some owners pay extra for them to receive additional education or specific vocational training.
Your second book involves gladiators. How and why do they come to fight at the arena?
Annie: Few people come voluntarily. The arena manager sometimes purchases slaves from their owners, if they are especially skilled in martial arts. In the city of Jarreon, enslavement (usually involving sale by auction) is a common punishment for certain crimes. So if the manager hears that a talented athlete, soldier, or someone else with the right skill set has been convicted of a crime and enslaved, he places a bid in an attempt to secure the person for the arena. He will occasionally offer a contract to a free martial artist, but this is rare, and it’s even rarer for anyone to accept it. Becoming a gladiator means being paid a generous sum in advance and then committing to a lifetime in the arena — and gladiators’ lives are notoriously short. As you can imagine, not many people would choose such an option, even though few outsiders have any idea of the strict training conditions and cruel treatment gladiators face on a daily basis.
So, what is daily life at the arena like for Bensin and other gladiators?
Annie: Up to a hundred gladiators at a time undergo rigorous training there during the week and compete on weekends against other arenas. (Sometimes the number is lower, because it can take time to replace “glads” when they are killed.) Guards and trainers at Red Arena always carry shockwhips: long, stiff whips with an adjustable strap that fastens around the user’s wrist. The whips deliver a painful blow that leaves a welt for several days. Pressing a button on the handle sends an electrical charge through the whip, and anyone struck with it then receives a painful electric shock. Gladiators are regularly lashed with shockwhips as a penalty for fighting or other rule breaking, or as a consequence for failing to meet the fitness goals their trainers set during workouts.
Red Arena guards also use dartblowers, which are little gray tubes about the length of a finger, worn on a cord around the neck. They contain tiny darts which, when they pierce the skin, cause a person to go limp and lose control of most muscles for several minutes. This is useful if glads are fighting each other, threatening arena staff, or otherwise engaging in potentially dangerous activities. A prick from a blown dart will leave them slumped motionless on the floor long enough for anyone in danger to get away or for guards to call for reinforcements. The glad is conscious and can still hear what’s happening around him, he just can’t move or open his eyes. The dart wears off gradually, and after that, he’ll have a headache for several hours.
As you can imagine, gladiators’ lives are dangerous. Although the weekend games are usually not intended to result in death (that would be a waste), accidents can and do happen. Gladiators fight with razor-sharp weapons, after all, and injuries are common. In addition, glads tend to be violent by nature, and in the course of daily life in the arena, they are constantly looking for opportunities to prove that they’re tougher than those around them. Newcomers, especially, tend to be victimized until they learn to stand up for themselves. Fighting (except during official combat practice times with a trainer supervising) is strictly against the rules due to the danger of “damaging valuable arena property”. There are always multiple guards standing ready to put a stop to any altercations. However, any gladiator would say that proving yourself is always worth the cost. If they’re quick, they can usually get in a few blows before the guards step in.
The arena features a number of different martial arts, some of which are familiar in our world. Boxing, wrestling, mu tokk, Skeyvian scimitar dueling, spear fighting, Nelirian double daggers (fought with a dagger in each hand), and cavvara shil are the main ones mentioned. Most gladiators who have been at the arena long enough are trained in multiple martial arts, though they may have one particular area of expertise.
What kinds of readers do you see this series appealing to most, and what books are similar to yours (ie: if a reader enjoys X, they’d like yours)?
Annie: I would say, anyone in middle school or above who likes action and adventure would probably like the Krillonian Chronicles. Sports or combat fans might be particularly interested. While this isn’t technically a dystopian series, fans of the dystopian genre would be likely to enjoy it. One of my beta readers said The Collar and the Cavvarach reminded her of The Hunger Games (but she liked my book better!).
Nice praise, indeed! Where can readers buy these books, and can they connect with you online?
Annie: The Collar and the Cavvarach is available on Amazon here.
The Gladiator and the Guard is available on Amazon here and on Smashwords here.
Readers are welcome to connect with me:
Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/AnnieDouglassLimaOnAmazon
Click here to sign up for my mailing list to be alerted when I release new books (and receive a free fantasy ebook when you sign up!).
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Thank you for being with us, Annie, and good luck with the Krillonian Chronicles!