The Beast of Ten Wrap Up

Spoiler Alert: This is a wrap up post for The Beast of Ten book club. It does contain some light spoilers. I would read the book before continuing. You can find it here.

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As his eyes watch the passing winter sunset, I realize why they are so disturbing. They are completely devoid of color. The shape of the pupil is there, the iris, but they are leached away, faded, his eyes abandoned of life. Blank.

He blinks and moves his eyes towards mine.

’Pardon,’ I murmur, pulling my knees tightly against me, the soiled hem of my dress stiff and hard against my bare feet.

’Tell me what they call you,’ he orders.

My fear has not yet taken away a willingness to claim my own name, so I answer as strongly as I am able, ‘Ember,’

He tilts his head slightly. ‘Unusual, I believe.’

’My full given name is December.’

The bleak stares a moment, then laughts. It is a bitting laugh. ‘That is Ironic.’

My face creases in confusion.

’Because December means ‘the tenth one,’’ he supplies impatiently.

This post has been delayed a handful of days. Okay, a full week. (Sorry!). Partly because I've been a under the weather, mostly because I've been thinking about what to say. The Beast of Ten is both allegory and tapestry, and writing the tale was a rich experience, full of light and wonder and conflict and the depths of the heart. There are myriad things I could say or discuss and I haven't known which to include in this post. I will do my best, but I will say that the book is written so that the reread will mean even more than the first time through. Keep it close for that cold day, when night falls early, and there is the scent of snow on the air...

Shall we begin?

Each of my books pull at a particular piece of my heart. Like beloved friends, they not only claim a unique affection, but they bring out different things in me as a person and a writer. So the books of Imirillia pulled out one voice, The Q asked for another, and The Beast of Ten a third. There was no editing them to that place. That's how they already were. On the early occasions when I suggested changing the voice of any of them, I was given a sharp rebuttal and shown the door. Grin. And so I had to listen to how the characters wanted to be presented. That leads me to the first question...

1) Why did you write The Beast of Ten first person present?

The Beast of Ten is the only of my books (thus far) written in first person present. I wasn't planning on it. I began in third person. But Ember kept pulling me into her mind, spinning the story through her thoughts. I'm sure she need someone else to understand clearly what she had to go through. I soon came to understand that this story required as close a narration as possible. So I changed what I'd written to first person present. And then I changed it back third. And then back to first. And then back to third. It was a real back and forth battle. I knew it needed the intensity of first person present, but I kept feeling bad about it. People can be so opinionated about point of view, and I wonder if that was what was holding me back. I was so undecided I made it a matter of prayer. Lol. And afterward felt very confident that I should stick with the first person present and trust the story. I'm glad I did.

He shifts his shoulders, his eyes still on mine, angry. ‘What did you do?’

’I hardly know.’ I look back towards the hearth. ‘That’s the beauty of it. I don’t think I could extinguish the flame if I tried. Which I won’t,’ I add, looking back towards him, too surprised not to find humor—and irony—in this happening. The corner of my mouth tips upward. ‘I’m counting it a small victory.’

’I’m counting it a damn nuisance.’

I laugh.

The Death Bleak winces as the fire in the hearth flares up in response. He stands up slowly, protecting his hands, and then leans into the corner.

’And so we have it,’ he states, the words seeming to scratch along the top of his pain. ‘You dare challenge me after all.’

Are you going to do a sequel? 

I've been asked this many times. Here is what I know: There is no direct sequel. It''s not really possible with how it ended. The characters left me with a generous epilogue and then moved beyond me to do their work. That being said, I do know there is a story waiting for me in Amperea, the nation across the sea where the Pyre's glass came from. Also there is another story surrounding the Pyre, but it's not something I can talk about at this point. If it happens, it will be a few years. But it would be fun.

What character did you enjoy writing about the most?

Hmmm. Tough because I love all of them. The entire tale is told through Ember's eyes and most of her interactions are with Sperro and Astrick. I obviously love all three. I love the banter and mistrust and pain and humor as Ember and Sperro's relationship develops. I adore the surrounding cast, and was particularly pleased every time we ran into Sylvain. I never knew what he was going to say, but was always happy to hear it. I'm very fond of him.

Then he gives me more consideration. ‘Brave, to wander the Pyre alone.’

’Not so very brave,’ I answer, my words coming out as a whisper.

’Well,’ his own voice drops, ‘I’ll tell you this: keep your wanderings if you must, but be on high alert for those who would seek your end. There are those who come to this place that you should avoid.’

’Are you such a one?’ I ask.

’Me?’ He shakes his head. ‘No, lass. I’d seek my end before I ever sought yours, but I cannot find it.’

I love the cover! Is there anything you can say about that?

Yes! Isn't it beautiful? The fabulous cover was crated by artist Mike Ken Anderson. And I do have the behind the scenes, but I am going to post that as a separate post.

Some facts, some thoughts...

- Ederra

 I didn't know how Ederra died until the end of the book when Sperro is curled up beside Ember's hearth. It took my breath away, and I realized the significance of their earlier scene by the river. It was wonderful to see the love between characters. The Beast of Ten is a book of love stories. Each different. Each valuable to the journey of the characters inside the covers.

- A Book With One Setting, The Pyre

The Beast of Ten takes place in one setting, that of the winter bound Pyre, and its surrounding forest. The expanse of The Pyre was grand enough that the rooms, corridors, and outbuildings all held their uniqueness well, allowing the interest of a changing background to the complex building of relationships. That being said, we spend hundreds of pages in this one place. Looking back now, I realize that the Pyre served as an anchor. The story itself is such a contrasting battle, the heights and depths of the characters in dramatic textures, that the travails of the souls were given the safety of the stones under their feet.  

A lot of readers express how hard it was for them to say goodbye to The Pyre. I agree. It is a place of light and color and beauty. All good things. 

The Pyre, I learn as I step away and look up, is even more massive than I had gathered, an unparalleled building, full of towers and windows, dressed in a warn stone that reflects pockets of icelike crystals when the sun hits its surface. There are patterns in the windows, each one like a glass painting—some are geometric, others, depictions of nature or breathtaking displays of both.

- Astrick and His Stained Glass Windows

I have done a little stained glass. Very little. So, needless to say, I was in as much awe as Astrick, yet equally impressed with his own skills. Inside any book are lost chapters...the in between details that there isn't time to convey. There are pages and pages of Astrick gazing at the windows like a love struck puppy. It was endearing. 

‘Are you waiting for me?’

I stand up from where I’m perched on the front steps and brush my skirts. ‘I knew you would be arriving at the Pyre today.’

’You could feel my anxiety to be about those windows, no doubt.’

- The Light, The Dark, and Redemption

As addressed in a previous post, I knew from the beginning that the Beast of Ten would be a tale of great contrast, of light and dark, and, ultimately, an exploration of redemption. Specifically, what is the reach and power of said redemption?

As a fantasy writer one is given space to wrestle with glorious themes. The world, more often than not, is threatened, or changing, or being destroyed, and a hero or two must arise and perform that archetypal journey to save not only themselves but many others around them. There are sacrifices, and gifts; there are choices and sacrifices; there is good clashing with evil. It is a genre of grandeur, and a place where words can wrestle with the concept of redemption. 

The notion of redemption saturates the early Judeo and Judeo Christian texts. The biblical Adam and Eve are taught the purpose of sacrifice. The law of Moses perpetuated this education by pointing towards Christ and teaching a nation of one who, blameless and spotless, would be offered upon the alter. Isaiah wrote some especially beautiful prophecies of the Christ to come, who would atone for the sins of the world. "And by his stripes we are healed." I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and so the depth and power of redemption is a topic which often occupies my thoughts. A full understanding of divine redemption is as unfathomable to a mortal mind as ten thousand oceans. And so there I sat, having met a story that was asking me to explore such depths through the lens of a fantasy world.

The book begins with a jarring carriage ride in the dark. Ember is clinging to any hope she can find. Across from her sits a wretched creature so steeped in darkness he's almost lost himself to it completely. He will surely end her life and she will be no more. But he doesn't. He waits. And she finds herself at the Pyre, a place of holiness now desecrated by the Death Bleak. And the question is asked: Can such a being be redeemed?

At first, Ember does not think he can. The darkness is too great. But light makes a very different promise. It illuminates. It challenges shadow and doubt. Light, in its smallest amounts, dispels darkness. It cannot be erased. It is in and through everything.

‘Upon any thought, I’ve never really cared for it at all.’ With a flick of his wrist, the book is sent flying into the fireplace, the pages reaching out, flapping against the air.

’No!’ I jump off the window seat.

It hits the burning logs, tumbling down, settling in a bent shape. The moment the book ignites, I feel as if something has punched my stomach, stealing the air from my lungs. I gasp, dropping to my knees, my hands reaching out across the stone floor.

’Sperro! Why did you do that!’

’What does it matter!’ he barks, and I’m taken aback by the thing, desperate fierceness in his voice. ‘What does the tale matter, December? It is an empty story, a hollow thought.’

’Redemption is none such.’

’Yes, it is. It is old and stale.’

’No!’ I cry, bringing my hands into fists before me, looking up intently at his face. ‘It is new as the morning, fresh as the day.’

’It is a withered thing.’

’It is the chance of every man!’

Look at me!’ he shouts. ‘Look. At. Me.’

And I do. I look at him, a grey creature, shaking in his wrath.

’I am a Death Bleak. Nothing else. Nothing more! Nothing.’

’Not nothing,’ I cry, a guttural sob rising in my chest. ‘Not nothing,’ I repeat, forcing the wet tears from my face with the heel of my palm. ‘And you, even you, Sperro, are given one last chance. Please.’ My voice is trembling. ‘Please don’t throw yourself into this abyss.’

He watches me for a long, hard moment, then turns and leaves the room.

The Beast of Ten is a journey of the soul, of many souls. As my characters wrestled between the light and the dark, both real and very present, I wrestled with getting this story on paper in the most effective way possible, knowing that I would not know all the answers. It was daunting. I paced. I negotiated and battled. I laid awake at night. I discussed the journey with some trusted readers. I prayed. I followed my most hopeless Death Bleak, and asked what one more chance at the light would look like for him.

And after all this, I spent time in the Pyre and listened. Because their own words and actions always answered for everything else.

The Beast of Ten has reverberated with some readers on a deeply personal level. People have their favorite of my books, and I love to hear which it is and why. One thing that has repeated itself with The Beast of Ten is the readers who have reached out to say how the book rings true with a situation in their own life or in the life of a loved one. Someone with an addiction trying to climb out. Someone who had died. Someone who they could not love or see value in. I've been grateful for all those who have taken time to share what The Beast of Ten has meant to them.

 Writing a story of redemption requires a daunting immersion and I will always be thankful I was given the chance to walk the halls of the Pyre and spend a few years consumed with the tale. 

Thank you, Ember. Thank you, Sperro. 

Thank you, Readers.

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