The Big Idea: Anna Kashina
Posted on May 30, 2019 Posted by John Scalzi 5 Comments
In today’s Big Idea for her novel Shadowblade, author Anna Kashina reminds us that behind all the swashbuckling, there’s often a serious purpose.
During my Shadowblade blog tour, I have written several posts emphasizing the fun I had writing this novel, and I hope that readers picking up this book will experience the same fun. There is indeed a lot of fun elements in the story that made this book a pleasure to work on, including the blade fights, characters, politics, and of course, the romance.
But let me get serious for a moment.
Shadowblade is a story of a young orphan girl with uncertain heritage, Naia, growing up in the Jaihar Order that trains elite blademasters for the Empire. The Jaihar pride themselves on treating both genders equally, especially in their advanced training. But to get to that level Naia must first pass the lower grounds, dominated by drill masters whose role is to initiate young trainees into the Jaihar ways. Here, bullying is a norm, and incidentally all the superiors somehow tend to be male… Is it beginning to resemble any familiar situations?
Studies show that in male-dominated environments, girls and young women tend to experience subtle but very effective forms of bullying that target, and often destroy, their self-esteem. Fighting for emotional dominance, their peers often label them as incompetent, or negative. This is especially hard to deal with because a lot of this behavior is subconscious, based on such deep stereotypes that neither the bully nor the victim tend to realize them. For someone in training, these issues can permanently affect their future. Naia, a young and attractive girl whose major talent involves weapons, has to fight her way through all this, for a chance to rise to the top.
My big idea behind this book is perseverance. It’s the story of a person who doesn’t give up, no matter what the odds are. It’s about those people around her who recognize this, and help her break through all the stereotypes and bad attitude to come out as a winner. Naia’s life is threaded with challenges, all the way up. First as a trainee, where she has to find her way out of very deep trouble and face different tests at each level of her training. And then as a warrior, whose unprecedented assignment plunges her straight into the grinder of the imperial politics, with a low chance of survival and a very large target on her back.
Perseverance has been very important in my own life and career. It’s definitely the only thing that carried me through to where I am today. When I wrote this book, Naia continued to surprise me. She tackled her challenges in ways I never would have thought of – or so it seemed to me. Getting to know her enriched me as a person. I don’t believe that I’m anything like her, really, but I can relate to her in so many ways. I’ve learned things from her that I never expected to.
Layered underneath all the fun – the glittering medieval setting of a rich Middle Eastern empire, the highly technical blade fights, the food, the romance – this big idea is what drove the story for me.
Shadowblade: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt (click on “Excerpt” tag). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.
I met Ms. Kashina at Balticon last weekend, and was intrigued enough by her reading of the book’s prologue to grab a copy. Looking forward to reading it!
Interesting! And an excellent cover. The background is clearly inspired by the Angkor Wat, which is not in the Middle East, but who knows where Naia travels in the course of her adventures?
“The Jaihar pride themselves on treating both genders equally, especially in their advanced training. But to get to that level Naia must first pass the lower grounds, dominated by drill masters whose role is to initiate young trainees into the Jaihar ways. Here, bullying is a norm, and incidentally all the superiors somehow tend to be male…”
Sounds like some fucked up school staffing issues. Unless you present a good ratonale for staffing elementary classes with dickheads.
For Dana above, the paragraph you quote ends with asking: does it resemble any familiar situations?
I would answer you: Our ancestors, and our present teachers, are not neccesarily, as you say, dickheads. If teachers fall into familiar patterns, it is because such patterns are the default in our society unless a conscious and concerted effort is made. Mere exhortations and “trying harder” won’t work. There is a reason some coaches still use dysfunctional techniques from the 1950’s. Kids today report their schools have assemblies to educate kids that bullying is wrong, AND the kids report that bullying goes on.
Kids report their teachers are like in that song by that Nobel prize winner, “how many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?” Many in society—but not you, I hope—are not willing to give the teachers funding or time to teach and support each other: No support means no dropping denial.
Speaking of denial and reverting to old patterns, in my local police force, constables who were around during women’s liberation have aged out, and recently some police response to domestic abuse was grossly inappropriate.
Firefox on my phone yesterday suggested an item about “Why Do Women Bully Each Other at Work?”.
It’s not just women bullying women, or men bullying men or any combination of those. It isn’t only at work. People are simply often mean and nasty. “Haha! My dog thought I would really throw the ball this time.”
We bully or get bullied or both alternately by different people or even the same people under different circumstances. It starts before we ever go to school, continues throughout our whole lives and people are still bullying each other in nursing homes for geriatrics. There’s a whole industry of fitness gadgets and apps that we spend money on in order to get bullied into doing what society says we should do to get or to keep fit.
The “familiar situations” alluded to above can be summed up as LIFE. You might as well get used to it and/or try to use it to sell a few more books.