Sometimes characters take over. Writers tell you this, but it's still a shock when people you thought you'd invented hijack the story you're in the middle of telling.
To be fair Bez, whose story Queen of Nowhere is, didn't demand too much of me when she first showed up. It was in a book called Guardians of Paradise, which is the third Hidden Empire book. (Please stay with me here: you do not have to read all the Hidden Empire books in order. Or at all, in fact. As a reader nothing hacks me off more than picking up a promising-looking book by a new author and finding it's book X in a series, and that you need to have read the other books to make sense of it. The Hidden Empire books are a series, and some plot-lines develop across books, but each novel is also a discrete story. And there will not be a test. So: as you were.)
I needed someone to fulfil a role in Guardians of Paradise. This person had to be tech savvy (which the other characters aren't) but aware of the nasty secret which gives the series its name (which the other characters are, although most of the umpty-umpth trillion humans in my future universe aren't). That in itself made this person interesting. They'd most likely be a loner, and they'd have to be careful to the point of paranoia. How did they get to be that way, I wondered?
At this point, as often happens during character development, I wrote a short story. In Bez's case, it was about how she ended up fighting a lone battle against an enemy no one believes in.
Now I knew who she was, I could see how she played with others. Not well as it turns out, though not badly enough to derail my current plot, which was fortunate.
The next book in the series was nothing to do with Bez. She had played her part. Except, the more I thought about my paranoid genius hacker, the more I realised that I needed to find out what she did next. Or rather, I knew what she'd try and do next, and I needed to know whether she would succeed, not just because I cared about her but because she might be about to change the course of history.
So I wrote Queen of Nowhere.
Suddenly I wasn't looking at Bez as an outsider: I was in her head. And what an interesting place to be that was. Bez is smart; way smarter than me. Also, not a team player, which, as I already had a moderately well-bonded team of good(ish), guys was an issue. Misunderstandings would inevitably result.
Bez is also paranoid, although that's fair enough given they really are out to get her. But she's turned paranoia and evasion into a lifestyle. No, more than a lifestyle: her ability to live as the ghost in the machine is how she defines herself. We're talking someone more at home in the virtual than the real world, someone who changes identity every few days; who never reveals her true self to anyone. And because I'm writing in a varied and hi-tech future, she has plenty of scope for creative deception. Queen of Nowhere was the first time, in five books, where I could dream up a number of new worlds and let a character lose on or in them. This was great fun.
But she wasn't going to get everything her own way. Her enemies are far more devious and powerful than her. And whilst those enemies might be hidden, there are still plenty of them around. Genius or not, she's just one person. She needs to use people, just as the enemy does. And she needs allies – even the ones she doesn't want. And then there's the powerful group she had no idea even existed, one of whom is about to blow her lifestyle out the water--
I don't believe in spoilers any more than I believe in being obliged to buy whole series, so I'll stop there. I'm not going to tell you whether Bez won her secret war or not. But I will tell you this: she did some stuff that surprised the hell out of me.
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