The Big Idea: Griffin Barber

The difference between a tyrant and a king is found in if he is a ruler or a leader. But what makes a leader? Author Griffin Barber begins to answer this question in his Big Idea. Follow along as he tells you of his newest tome, 1637: The Peacock Throne, and how to write a true leader.


Some authors talk about how their characters speak to them. I wasn’t so sure about that until I began writing 1637: The Peacock Throne, but I know it’s true now.

Those readers who have read anything in Eric’s 1632 Universe will naturally expect sweeping technological change, fierce battles, hard-nosed politics, some cloak and dagger, and a bit of good old fashioned romance. I think we delivered on those scores, but, at its heart, 1637: The Peacock Throne is the story of a family at war with itself, and of a woman at war with the constraints her family—and culture—place upon her. It further touches upon the burden of leadership, and how incredibly hard it can be for any leader to discern between the individual’s wants and needs in light of the needs of those she leads, and the differences I see between leading and ruling. 

It has been a rather long and winding road from the publication of 1636: Mission To The Mughals to this day, but I’m excited to have 1637: The Peacock Throne out there in the world, being read at last. We had some challenges to overcome to get here, not least of which were some serious health concerns. 

But I leap ahead of events portrayed in 1637: The Peacock Throne. Our story opens in the wake of the assassination of Shah Jahan, Emperor of The Mughal Empire. The assassins also left his eldest son, Dara Shikoh, with a traumatic brain injury that clouds his judgement and makes him quick to anger. Jahanara’s younger brothers, Aurangzeb and Shah Shuja, each have a vast army at their command. The dynasty has no history or legal precedent for primogeniture, leading to civil strife and war with every generation’s assumption of power. This time is different in only one respect: Jahanara, hoping to mitigate the bloodshed and ensure she has some say in her own future, steps up to lead Dara’s faction as a power behind the Peacock Throne, if you will. As the uptimers are firmly in her and Dara’s camp, they are dragged along in the wake of great events, doing their best to ensure their own survival in turbulent times.

The Big Idea, then, is this: I have some thoughts on leading versus ruling. Namely, that it is my belief that leading is an entirely different animal to ruling. 

This difference was much on my mind as I wrote this novel. My first career has, by the time this Big Idea is published, drawn to an unwanted early close (Did I mention health problems?). I had more than a few frustrations in that other career, not least of which was the propensity of those in command to rule rather than lead. Further, I saw this propensity rewarded rather than discouraged, leading to the present state where many commanders shift blame away from themselves rather than accept their responsibility for the current state of play.

A leader says, “Yes, and…”

Leading is a beast that requires recognition of—and frequent submission to— the will of those being led. So, when someone suggests something, offers guidance or expertise, the leader says, “Yes, and…” This leads (ahem) to better outcomes for those participating in the organization being led, as their collective intelligence can be focused by the accepted leader for more effective application to the challenges facing the group. 

A ruler says, “No, because…” 

Ruling requires only that those ruled submit to the ingrained courses of power regardless of outcomes for either the organization or the individual. Ruling is an acceptable substitute to leadership only when the challenges facing that rule are ones it has previous experience dealing with and the individual ruler has, in fact, learned from.

I think that proper leadership is important to any human endeavor. So, when and where she can, the fictionalized character Jahanara Begum does not rule, she leads. Indeed, under the rules and laws of her people, she would never be permitted to do many of the things she does in the novel. Jahanara rails against this while conscious only of wanting to do better, of being abler than her male siblings. Granted, the position Jahanara was born into was one of unimaginable privilege, giving her access to the halls of power no other upbringing could match. However, surrounding her relative privilege was an equally-unimaginable prison created by the rule of generations of men disinterested in her gender for anything more than reproduction and pleasure. 

So, we have this young woman, who could easily rest at the very pinnacle of the power structure her culture and times deem appropriate for her gender role and age, she looks about and she is not content. No, Jahanara wants more, needs more. Knows herself capable of so much more. 

In switching between ruling and leading, in being as human as we could possibly write her, Jahanara defends her chosen family with naked violence, hurts some of those closest to her, and yet jeapardizes everything for a chance at the most fundamental of human connections, love. Jahanara is as human as we could write her. She makes mistakes. She learns from them, she leads and accepts responsibility for both errors and successes, and the means used to accomplish both success and failure.

She leads.

We hope she’ll lead you to enjoy 1637: The Peacock Throne.


1637: The Peacock Throne: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s blog. Visit the other author’s blog. Follow Griffin on Twitter.  


2 Comments on “The Big Idea: Griffin Barber”

  1. Definitely looking forward to this! I haven’t really read any of the rest of the Ring of Fire universe, but I really enjoyed the predecessor Mission to the Mughals because of how it looked at India during that time. It was clearly well-researched, but it was all woven into the story and the characters (in contrast to some novels that tend toward showing off how much research was done), so I’m hoping for more of that here.

  2. I, on the other hand, have been doing all the 1632 novels I can acquire since the very first book was published. Partly because I grew up in a WV coal town, and knew people like those in the books, partly because I already knew and loved other work by Eric.

    So as soon as I saw this Big Idea spot, I pulled out my tablet and searched for this novel on the Kindle store. I’m just now getting into it, and it’s interesting right off the bat. India has always fascinated me, and getting to bring great developers into WV to work side by side with me and our team was great. And Flint’s fiction is also great, always.

    A few of the novels by other authors as a little disappointing, but that’s really rare. Thanks Scalzi blog for bringing us these articles, as well as the photo features of stack of books.

    Sorry you burnt the cookies, I think good cookies are really hard to hit just right, so don’t beat yourself up too badly.

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