Periodically I hold conversations with people who ask, in so many words, why I choose to focus all my energy on fantasy fiction, of all things. It’s not serious, really; I could be doing more challenging, more important work.
I disagree entirely with the premise from which those conversations proceed. I believe speculative fiction is the most challenging work a person not blessed with mad mathematical skills could take up. This genre has been called the literature of ideas, and I think that’s an entirely apt description. It offers writers the tools to take readers far enough outside their normal contexts to examine ideas that are otherwise beyond contemplation. The majority of people are not wired for digging directly into issues that make them intensely uncomfortable; but take those issues outside a context that looks familiar, run them through the filter of story, and they become possible to engage with. Through these filters we can look at the ideas without flinching away, think about them, and take them back into our everyday context.
Bells of the Kingdom, the third book in Leona Wisoker’s acclaimed Children of the Desert series, is one such work. It’s a gripping, impossible-to-look-away-from story–but there is a darkness running through it, elements of things people would prefer not to confront. Leona herself has written:
I set out to write a fantasy novel with a cast of Heroes, and wound up with rather a lot of Reluctant Heroes who needed their arms wrenched round twice to go where I wanted them to go. Not a single cheerful “let’s go get ‘em!” sucker among the lot. What’s worse, the longer I worked with them, the more convincing their reasons for being Reluctant became. Some very ugly stuff crept in along the edges and wormed its way into the heart of the story: child abuse, prostitution, torture, and all manner of sadistic behavior.
I never set out to write this sort of novel; but there it was, one day, staring at me with big mournful eyes. And with every revision, with every re-read, I remembered more and more clearly that I’d drawn this or that horrible snippet from things that really happen, every single day, all over the world.
Robert M. Tilendis, in his introspective review of Bells of the Kingdom on The Green Man Review, notes, “Wisoker’s series so far has not been what you could call light-hearted, but this volume takes us some places I found very hard to go.”
It is very difficult, even in the context of fiction, to contemplate “every horror we’ve found to inflict on each other and on ourselves”. It is devastating to look into a book and discover it is a mirror of humanity, of ourselves. To see the monstrous possibilities of our species, and to recognize the tendrils they stretch into us, whether we are participants or merely apathetic bystanders.
But if it is horrifying, it can also be redemptive. These mirrors into our species and ourselves can allow us to stir out of apathy, to take some sort of action. One avenue of action available to readers touched by the dark truths in Bells of the Kingdom is offered by the Not For Sale Campaign, which is working to end human slavery–not just in places comfortably distant, but in dark corners much closer to home. We’ll be donating ten percent of the profits on all direct sales of Bells of the Kingdom, whether via the website or at conventions, to the Not For Sale campaign this year. Leona will be donating ten percent of her profits for this book to the foundation as well. Both of these campaigns will run through the end of the year, and they cover both print and eBook sales.We hope that if this book touches you, you’ll consider supporting the Not For Sale Campaign in other ways as well.