Jacqueline Carey has a healthy respect for history — you have to know what you’re working with in order to change it so wildly, as she does in so many of her book. But as she learned in writing Naamah’s Blessing, her latest novel set in the world of her wildly popular Kushiel books, changing history doesn’t necessarily get easier the more you do it; indeed quite the opposite.
I rewrite history… a lot. Over the course of the six books of the Kushiel’s Legacy series, I created a chronology in which the Roman Empire fell centuries before its time, the British Isles were isolated by a supernatural entity, and vast tracts of Germany and surrounding territories were subjected to an extended Dark Ages just so I could have my barbarian tribes. I developed a mythos in which the majority of Jews acknowledged Yeshua ben Yosef (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) as the mashiach (a.k.a. the messiah), and Christianity as we know it never took root; a mythos in which a wandering deity in the fertile Dionysian tradition was born of the mingled blood of Yeshua and the tears of Mary of Magdala, nurtured in the womb of the earth.Elua; Blessed Elua. I gave him seven fallen angels for Companions, and sent him to Terre d’Ange (a.k.a. France) to found a realm of their descendants, based on the sacred precept, “Love as thou wilt.”
Oh, and I invented Pictish culture based on nothing but a list of kings’ names and a handful of line drawings, and I discovered the lost Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia, and I resurrected Carthage. So when I decided at the beginning of the Naamah trilogy, which is set in the same milieu, that I’d visit the New World in the final volume, Naamah’s Blessing, and undo the Spanish conquest, it didn’t seem like a Big Idea. I didn’t expect it to be terribly challenging.
I was wrong.
Rolling back the conquistadores wasn’t the hard part. I’d read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel as part of my general background research. I took guns out of the equation early in the trilogy and I had a plan to deal with germs, which were totally the deadliest weapon of the three. I figured steel and horses alone weren’t enough of an advantage for total conquest. So, yay! That left me free to explore Pre-Columbian culture in Central and South America in a more sympathetic light…
…which brought me bang up against human sacrifice.
Although my divinely amorous D’Angelines are the heroes of the books, throughout the series, I’ve strived to give equal weight to all the belief systems I addressed. Core truths might be subject to reinterpretation, but not outright invalidation. This was a tough one. I could temper it, but I couldn’t deny or ignore it. I tried looking at how other contemporary writers had handled the issue. I even watched Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. It didn’t help. Especially not Apocalypto.
As I’ve written elsewhere, I finally found my psychological access point in the rich Aztec tradition of poetry, and particularly in imagery equating the ephemeral nature of human existence with the poignancy of the cut flower. It allowed me to look past my visceral reactions and see an awful and terrible beauty in the relentless strictures of a demanding faith. And in the end, I was able to incorporate it in a manner that gave the book’s denouement greater resonance.
It turned out to be a Big Idea after all.