RYAN VAN LOAN:
My Big Idea began with that old saw: “power corrupts”.
The actual quote is “power tends to corrupt” (emphasis mine) “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It was written by a stodgy British lord whose only real claim to fame was influencing the British Prime Minister of the time to tacitly support the Confederacy during the American Civil War…and that quote that’s been oft repeated, little reckoned in the centuries since.
It’s something I’ve reckoned with my whole life. When you grow up poor, when you grow up short and scrawny with a late growth spurt, and when you sign up for the infantry for six years during a time of war…power is something you are faced with time and time again. Power tends to corrupt. Tends to. Does it? That’s what I wanted to find out when I sat down to create The Justice in Revenge, sequel to my debut, The Sin in the Steel.
Last year I wrote about my Big idea for Sin: that my streetwise protagonist Sambuciña “Buc” Alhurra, was looking for a lever to upend her corrupt society and break the cycle of violence and poverty she’d been born into. Buc and her war-weary Watson-esque partner in crime-solving, Eld used their reputations as the first private investigators to solve a mystery empires and the Gods themselves had failed to solve in exchange for a seat on the board of the most powerful trading company in the world. A pair of seats as it turned out, handing Buc the power she needs to reshape society in such a way that children like herself never go hungry, never find themselves born into the gutter, never to rise from it…maybe.
(Reader, be warned: slight spoilers for The Sin in the Steel follow)
What I discovered when writing The Justice in Revenge is that power changes people in ways both great and small. Buc has the ear of the Doga of Servenza, one step below the Empress herself. She’s sparring with the chairwoman of the mighty Kanados Trading Company on the daily, and she’s got a shard of a Goddess inside her thanks to the events of Sin which grants her superhuman powers…along with the shard’s constant temptation for Buc to surrender to the Goddess and become one of her full fledged mages.
The Buc of Justice has choices available to her that the old Buc never could have dreamed of and those choices necessarily force her to reevaluate her approach. Should she use her access to the Doga to secure favors that could further her goals? Should she try a hostile takeover and wrest control of the trading company’s board to herself? What about making a truce with one of the most powerful beings in the universe? Surely any or all of those could help her upend the corrupt society she’s dreamed of scouring clean…but none of those things happen in a vacuum.
Even a genius like Buc can’t engineer every coup to be completely bloodless and to compromise with the elite of this society–those who prop it up every day and seek to profit from it in perpetuity–is going to have its own set of costs. Buc is going to have to bend to the realities of realpolitik, and that, Dear Reader, is where the corruption question really comes to the fore. It was lurking there in the background, even just by association Buc was already feeling its creeping tendrils, but in taking a seat at the table, in playing their game, has she already been compromised?
Stories are full of characters who are given great power. We’ve seen when those characters live up to their expectations in movies like Captain America and Spiderman and we’ve also seen when the power takes control like in Saruman and (dare I peer into that Pandora’s box of an ending) Daenerys in Game of Thrones. I wanted to test that notion, to test Buc’s resolve and really, that’s my Big Idea: Is power inherently evil or is it but the first step on a path that diverges, with the well trodden one leading to hell? It all comes back to that one phrase: “tends to” and whether Buc, or any of us really, are capable of the constant vigilance required to keep from slipping onto that bright shiny path that leads to the side of absolute power and the very real, absolute corruption that comes with it.