Story behind Allegiance by Beth Bernobich

Allegiance is the third book in my River of Souls trilogy from Tor, set in a world where souls are reborn and people remember their past lives through vivid dreams. It's a story about fate and free will and the gift of second chances.

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When I started writing in this world, however, I had no idea about most of that. Magic, yes. Multiple lives, yes. Characters? A different set entirely. And this business of fate and free will? Um, sure, I meant to do that. Really.

Okay, no, I didn't. Truth be told, I spent several years and several drafts stumbling around. With every revision, my writing improved, but the novels themselves still lacked that necessary insight that would snap them into focus.

Eventually, as part of an experiment, I decided to write a novella about one of the secondary characters, a young woman named Ilse Zhalina, who played the role of advisor to my protagonists. The original book didn't include much about her history, except that she had left home at a young age and had overcome a series of horrific experiences. I thought it would help me add depth and complexity to the storyline if I dug deeper into her background and her reasons behind leaving her family.

But as I wrote that novella, various plot points shifted around, other characters took on larger roles, and I realized Ilse's story needed a much larger stage. I ended up turning the novella into a novel, Passion Play, which tells how Ilse reinvents herself from a powerless young woman, the daughter of a wealthy merchant who treats her much as he would treat a bundle of trade goods, into someone learning about magic, swordplay, and politics.

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By this time, I knew Ilse was the true central character and that her journey to independence would be the backbone of the trilogy. I took the original book, now titled Queen's Hunt, and rewrote it completely with that in mind. Twelve chapters vanished. The original main character became an important antagonist and ally. (It's complicated.) And the element of past lives came to the front of the story, as characters who had crossed paths four hundred years before now had to face the consequences of their actions from those past lives.

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Which brings us to the last book, Allegiance.

Allegiance was the hardest book of all to write. I knew precisely where and how to end both the book and the trilogy, but it took me five tries before I settled on an opening chapter that felt right. Then I wrote chapters from my outline all out of order, which is something I had never tried before. The number of viewpoints had also changed, going from Ilse's single point of view in Passion Play, to half a dozen in Queen's Hunt, to thirteen in Allegiance, reflecting the widening scope of the story from personal to one of kings and queens and nations on the brink of war.

It wasn't until I knew how to tie the epic to the personal, however, that I knew how to fill in all the missing pieces. The trilogy is Ilse's journey toward adulthood and agency. The quite literal journey she takes in Allegiance is an echo of the one she had attempted four hundreds years before, when a once-great empire faced a bloody civil war. It's also an echo of her first, interrupted journey in Passion Play, when she escaped her father's house. History is, after all, the personal writ large.

Does the end of the trilogy mean the end of River of Souls? Yes and no. Except for a few shorter works, it is the end of Ilse's story in this lifetime. But I do have notes and drafts of other novels and other stories, including ones dealing with the political fallout from Allegiance. To quote the first lines of that book, Endings, the poet Tanja Duhr once wrote, are deceptive things. In truth, the end of one story, or one life, carries the seeds for the next.

Beth Bernobich

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