Interview with Castle of Lies Author Kiersi Burkhart

Castle of Lies

By Amy Fitzgerald, Associate Editorial Director, Carolrhoda Novels

Where did the idea for this epic tale start?

Gossip Girl.

Everyone in it is terrible! They’re catty, petty, and privileged. They don’t hesitate to backstab their friends to get what they want. There are telenovela levels of romantic drama that I relish. Over the course of the show, the characters have to learn to be decent people—after a lot of personal torment! I couldn’t stop watching until they became who they were supposed to be.

I’ve always loved adult fantasy, but I also always felt so… left out by it. Rarely are women more than caricatures. Rarely do queer people get stories where they don’t die at the end. And in stories like Game of Thrones—which I loved!—rape features constantly. So purely for fun, I started writing a story that would be the marriage of all the things I like. The book I’ve always wanted to read. My friends and I nicknamed it “Gossip Tolkien,” even though it’s more Game of Thrones-esque than Tolkien-esque.

I also focused on subverting that Western-centered, medieval setting that’s idealized in so much high fantasy.  The medieval Western world was warlike, imperialistic, and regressive. For every fancy lord there were a hundred serfs. It was grimy and unsanitary and nobody had plumbing. I wanted to capture that gross reality in the Holy Kingdom and contrast it with more progressive realms like Frefois and the Northern Republic.

Which character ended up surprising you most as you worked on the novel’s many drafts?

Bayled! He’s such a Good Soft Boy, and in the early drafts, he stayed that way, no matter what got thrown at him. I used to think that’s what made him great: he was always optimistic and trusting. Everyone could look up to him as an example of virtue.

But that’s not realistic, and it’s definitely not growth! While everyone else in Castle of Lies must learn to soften, to be better people, Bayled’s journey is the opposite. He can’t help his friends unless he grows a backbone. Not everyone has good intentions in life, and it’s important—sometimes life-saving—to be able to recognize that. His newfound ability to recognize deceit (thanks, Nul se Lan!) is what saves them.

Why was it important to you to show a polyamorous romance among Thelia, her (adoptive!!!) cousin Parsifal, and Sapphire the nonbinary elf?

It’s real life! A lot of new science backs up the idea that not everyone is programmed for monogamy. Fundamentally, I believe (many, though not all) human beings are capable of loving more than one person just as deeply as another person simultaneously. I’ve lived in communities where non-monogamous, long term relationships are common and functional.

As a Western society, we have so many strict, heteronormative views about love and relationships. Based on my lived experiences and those of people close to me, I find that to be unrealistic. Love is not a narrow channel. Love can be wide and encompassing and doesn’t have to fit any predetermined structure or standard. 

And Thelia, Parsifal, and Sapphire are just the sort of people who refuse to stand inside the lines. Thelia and Parsifal are both outsiders in the stifling, regressive Holy Kingdom. They both connect with Sapphire as someone they can finally relate to, someone who understands them.

I made you cut a LOT of material to trim the story down to the length of a single book. What’s a chopped scene or character you still secretly cherish?

My dwarf queen. She was sexy and powerful and unrelenting. She had good taste in food and drink, and there was… a lot of bizarre sexual energy with the Commander that her husband didn’t seem to mind. Or maybe didn’t comprehend.

It’s as if there’s a theme I like.

If you lived on the continent of Helyanda, which realm would you want to call home?

Without a doubt: Frefois, Parsifal’s homeland.

Their clothes are FABULOUS. Everyone can wear whatever they want in Frefois; it’s all about self-expression and individual style.

By the same token, Parsifal’s polyamorous relationship with Thelia and Sapphire would be absolutely accepted. So would monogamous relationships, and people who are aromantic (not desiring romance). Your lifestyle, your partners, your path, is yours to choose in Frefois—as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else.

As Parsifal makes quite clear, too, Frefois has no tolerance whatsoever for predators. So I may have designed it as exactly the place I’d like to live.

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