I suppose it started with Buffy. A cool, modern heroine who didn’t need a knight in shining armour to save her. One just as quick with the one-liners as she was with a foot to the face and stake to the heart. Sure, there have been plenty of warrior women before. Think Boudicca, the Rani of Jhansi, Empress Jingu and the legends of the Amazons the shield maidens out of Scandinavia. But Buffy brought ick-ass heroines into the modern consciousness, and was as an inspiration to countless YA heroines ever since. Without Buffy would we have had Katniss? Or Celaena? Or Katsa and Billi SanGreal or Tris? Aren’t they all daughters of Buffy?We want strong female characters, the days of the simpering romantic heroine are, thankfully, over. But do you need to wield a sword to be considered ‘strong’? What about the other types of courage, beyond the battlefield and the arena? When starting SHADOW MAGIC I wanted a heroine who was brave, principled, sacrificing, but never, EVER picked up a weapon. No swordfighting, archery, not even a marginal skill in kicking.
Where to begin? It turned out to be simpler than expected, because there was one on the news the very night I created Lily Shadow. You heard of Malala Yousafzai? She’s the Pakistani girl who, at fifteen, was shot in the head by the Taliban for trying to promote education for girls. She went on to not only survive, but win the Nobel Peace Prize and become one of the most influential advocates for education and womens’ rights in the world. A fifteen year old girl who terrorized the terrorists. Power, without a gun.
Lily Shadow, my dark princess of SHADOW MAGIC is based on Malala. Lily lives in a world where women have no power. It’s a world of great magic, but men jealously guard the right to study it. A woman practising magic gets burnt at the stake. Lily’s got magic in her blood. She’s descended from the Prince of Darkness himself. Once her family commanded zombie legions. They summoned demons to do their bidding (and housework because, hey, they could) and took the council of ghosts.
She was raised by One-eyed Ron, a zombie who’d been in the family for generations (and, truth be told, was getting the worse for wear). Yet, she is powerless. Her value is merely as a pawn in the political marriage game. She’s not allowed to use the gifts she has to help herself, or her people. Lily rules Gehenna, the kingdom of darkness, in name only. So, like millions of girls in our world, she cannot be what she wants to be, because she’d denied an education. As words in our world can affect the people who hear or read them, words in hers, magical words, can literally change the world around her.
As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. Lily doesn’t fight. She can’t. She has people for that (such as Thorn, the twelve-year old archer, and Tyburn, her executioner) but Lily can be powerful, she can change the destiny of her people, the kingdoms surrounding her, she can defeat her enemies, if she gets an education. Just like Malala defeated the Taliban with a book and pen. Of course SHADOW MAGIC is a fantasy, I like fantasy, but its inspiration comes from right here. There are zombies, there are spooky castles and giant vampire bats but in the end it’s about a girl who wants to be what she wants to be, despite having the world against her. And you know what? There is no greater battle than that.
Thorn, an outlaw's son, wasn't supposed to be a slave. He's been sold to Tyburn, an executioner, and they're headed to Castle Gloom in Gehenna, the land of undead, where Thorn will probably be fed to a vampire. Lilith Shadow wasn't supposed to be ruler of Gehenna. But following the murder of her family, young Lily became the last surviving member of House Shadow, a long line of dark sorcerers. Her country is surrounded by enemies and the only way she can save it is by embracing her heritage and practicing the magic of the undead. But how can she when, as a girl, magic is forbidden to her? Just when it looks like Lily will have to leave her home forever, Thorn arrives at Castle Gloom. A sudden death brings them together, inspires them to break the rules, and leads them to soar to new heights in this fantasy with all the sparkle and luster of a starry night sky.
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JOSHUA KHAN: Born in Britain. Lives in London. Would rather live in a castle. Writes fantasy. Enjoys it.
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