Having your wits about you. Vulnerability. Love. The ability to survive an assassination attempt. Lots of things.
The wait for this much-anticipated book is finally over.
(Not that it took too long – the previous “chapter” was published in September 2020 – but still.)
And if you think you’re dying to devour it, and on the edge of your seat to find out what happens next, wait till you hear from the author herself.
Oh, and you can call her Kay.
“There’s a sense of excitement that people will get to read what I feel is the most meaningful instalment of the Bitch Queen series,” she says.
“THIS is the book that ties it all together, makes all the conclusions, and makes you pause about the entire journey so far. It’s been a hall of mirrors the whole time, in a way, and this last book breaks all of that apart to get to the true heart of the story.”
As if that wouldn’t make you even more eager
They have all the elements a reader would want in an action-packed story: Warring peoples and kingdoms. Death and deceit. Uncertainty. Dark histories. Complicated characters you can’t help but understand and root for. Betrayal and hidden agendas. Intrigue and mystery. Lands and other settings you wish were real…
Oh, and mages and dragons too.
And at the heart of it all is Queen Talyien, who has to deal with all of that (and more) to (hopefully) come out on top, in order to keep her throne, conquer her adversaries, and truly rule. (That’s pretty spoiler-free, don’t you think?) 😉
Kay describes her work as “character-driven epic fantasy”, after all.
“Talyien is a woman driven by love. That’s really all there is to it,” she points out.
“She’s a product of her circumstances, sure; all my characters are. The most important thing, though, is her journey towards reconciliation with what the world has forced her to become and what she could still be, in spite of everything.
“Talyien’s eyes are opened to a lot of things over the course of the series – to what her family has done to her own kingdom, and to her own privilege and power,” Kay adds.
“She’s still the same woman, though. She just grows.”
Her relationships too
And by that we mean not just Talyien’s relationships with the other characters, which help her to develop, but Kay’s relationships with her own characters as well.
With Talyien specifically, of course. “‘Intimate’ is the first word I think of,” Kay muses.
“I can’t write characters until I’m in their skin, until I ‘see’ the world their way, even if it doesn’t match my own perspective. And then when I write, I lend them everything from my own experiences, my own life, to use in whatever way benefits their story.
“So Talyien, in particular, borrows a lot from my own conflicts and struggles. Out of all my characters, she probably borrows the most (though that can change as I write more books!) – the struggle of being the eldest daughter of a Filipino family, with a lot riding on her even though she herself hasn’t figured it all out, and if things fall apart, it feels like it’s all her fault; the struggle between feeling like everything is your responsibility, at the same time knowing it’s not.
“In so many ways, in writing her, I feel like I shone a light on my own struggles and made them seem not-so-insurmountable after all.”
It gets real
You’ll see and feel what Kay’s talking about as you read the first and second books, and ultimately the third.
The series contains such rich worlds and themes, and complex characters, that draw you in. Here are a few words or concepts Kay’s tackled that would make you rethink and analyse their meanings from Talyien’s point of view, and in our own lives and in the grand scheme of things too:
Leadership. Power. Betrayal. Image. Perception. Reality. Relationships. Bitch. Motherhood. Being female. Conflict. Resolution. Bravery.
What do these mean to you?
When you read about Talyien’s decisions and experiences in the books, you realise that they are not as clear-cut as they seem, especially when you factor in Kay’s own thoughts, observations and experiences.
“I mostly write based on feel, so a lot of these words always goes back to how I’ve experienced life as a Filipino woman, and how I interact or relate with the world,” she maintains. Kay moved from the Philippines to Canada as a teenager, and currently resides in Anmore, British Columbia.
“Most of my books, even outside the Bitch Queen series, more or less revolves around the struggle of a woman of colour in a world that may not always see her as a hero. And I want to redefine that.
“I want to take this genre’s tropes and story structures and twist them in order to make women like me the hero, for once, even if that means redefining what that word means.”
Kay’s favourite passages from the books may help us appreciate this mission even further:
From The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
“Betrayal has a funny way of turning your world upside down. As familiar as I had already been with it by that point, it still amazed me how far I could stretch that moment of denial. The thought of what had been – of what could yet be – persisted. Perhaps it is not the same for most people. Perhaps, when you love less, it is easier not to let the emptiness become a cavern from which you can no longer see the sun.”
From The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng “A part of me always knew that the truth could be as complex as a shaft of light through a cut gem. Turn it, view it from another angle, and it shifts. Sometimes it is telling, a burst of clarity on a dark streak, brightness to chase away shadows. “Sometimes it is blinding.”
And… “We don’t need love to breathe, but without it we would wither soon enough, like trees bereft of sunlight. “If I cannot write poetry, I can at least tell the truth.” “This just goes back to what I mentioned is the most important thing about Talyien to me: She is driven by love, and everything she does in life always goes back to that,” Kay emphasises.
“Even when the people she loves turn out to be less than ideal, she offers no compromises. Her capability to love is a force of nature, as reckless as her own personality. I love that so much about her.”
So should we now sit back and relax…?
What’s Kay happiest about or most satisfied with in The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng?
“I’m happy with everything about it, honestly! I didn’t think I would be able to write a complete, action-packed epic that is also extremely intimate and follows a character’s personal growth every step of the way,” she states.
“Finishing it alone is an accomplishment, and the fact that it hits all my goals for both character development and structure is quite satisfying (although I also feel a sense of loss now that it’s over).”
But is it really over? “The end of the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen marks the first trilogy I’ve released in the traditional publishing world, which means quite a lot to me,” Kay reflects.
“For one thing, the idea that I would ever publish a book this way, let alone an entire series, has always seemed elusive. For *this* particular series to be the one that breaks the ground for me means even more, as this is a deeply personal, ‘all me’ sort of story.
“Talyien’s journey of self-discovery and finding her own way in life reflects my own journey thus far, and I’m filled with gratitude to everyone who supported me every step of the way for this,” she continues.
“I would love for it to mark the beginning of a new chapter in my writing career, but at the same time, it marks the end of a chapter in my life too, so the feeling is very bittersweet.”
But don’t get her wrong – looking back, there are some scenes that she’s quite mad about. 😉 And we define “mad” here as both “passionate about” and “freaking out over”.
“The whole book is a rollercoaster, and I would spoil readers if I spoke about them, so let’s just say some of the scenes people have been waiting for (or dreading!) are more or less here…” Yikes…
How will Kay celebrate its release then? “I will be having a Q&A with John Gwynne here. (People can pre-register, or watch the chat after the event.) Otherwise, I normally just find time to spend with my family, eat something special together, or take a walk.”
After everything she and Talyien have been through, those activities sound welcome. 😊
For more on Kay, check out her site, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen series is published by Orbit Books. Kay also wrote Blackwood Marauders and The Agartes Epilogues trilogy.
How does she decide on the names of her characters and places? “I love making this joke: I smash my forehead on the keyboard and then add vowels. “But it’s very close to the truth. I make up a lot of them. The rest are either words from Filipino languages, or names that resemble those words, or actual names, or names with spelling I’ve changed. It’s the same way with how I create places – there’s normally an idea or a problem about the place that I highlight, and it might even be something as mundane as an engineering problem, and then I just smash it against other ideas until it becomes whole. My brain is very, very chaotic...”
Which books did she reach for during these tough times?
“Ironically, I’ve gone to non-fiction and research, many to do with history concerning inequalities in the world. I’ve been furiously writing during this whole time, and the themes in the work I’ve done in the last year have reflected many of the same topics that the pandemic has brought to light. It’s my way of redirecting my anger over the status quo.”